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A Night at the Opera: Cosi Fan Tutte

22 November 2010

I’m a huge symphony fan — but opera? Well, it’s never been my thing. In fact, if an opera comes on the radio, that’s usually my cue to change the channel. I’m sure I’m not the only one who imagined sitting through a full-blown opera as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

So it was with a mixture of nervousness and excitement that I attended last Friday a performance of Mozart’s COSI FAN TUTTE.

On the surface, this opera is quite unflattering to women. The title itself means “So Do All [Women]” and suggests a predisposition of our fair sex towards infidelity and inconstancy.

Here’s the situation. There are two sets of fiancés, an older gentleman named Don Alfonso and a maid named Despina. The young men are convinced that their fiancées are as faithful as they are beautiful but Don Alfonso is skeptical. He bets 100 gold coins that their women are fickle and will be easily seduced if the men go away. The men are so confident of their women, so puffed up by their egos, that they eagerly take on the bet.

The men pretend to go off to war (this brings on seemingly unending scenes of the women expressing their profound sorrow – I won’t lie: there were times when I wished I could grab a remote control and push “fast forward”). The men return as exotic “Albanians” and under Don Alfonso’s watchful eye try to woo each other’s fiancées.

The girls, steadfast initially, eventually give way to the men and soon a double wedding is arranged. During the wedding – oh, horror! – military drums are heard in the distance, announcing the safe return of the men from war. The women’s infidelity is discovered but Don Alfonso encourages everyone to laugh it off and realize that life is just that way sometimes.

As opera guru Glenn Winters observed in his pre-show lecture, the quick resolution leaves the characters on stage more satisfied than the audience. The audience knows something to which the characters seem oblivious: there are no fairy-tale endings. They may be happy now but there are serious problems lurking just below the surface.

Beethoven and Wagner hated COSI. They felt it was beneath Mozart and wrote reviews so scathing that for years few dared to perform it. I’m sure B&W knew a thing or two about good music, but for my part I thought the costumes were beautiful, the sets well done, the Italian lyrics lovely, the music – well, it’s Mozart after all! I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience and plan to give opera more of a chance from now on.

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