love …with a twist
A deliciously ironic look at the foibles of love.
We begin with two sisters, their fiancés, and a bet—Will the women be faithful? “Of course,” brag the men. “Nay,” says the cynical Don Alfonso.
Thus we enter a world of disguises and trickery in which the women—and Love itself—are put to the test. And you can bet we’ll be on their side every step of the way! Mozart’s genius turns a farce into a scintillating blend of thought provoking humor.
The perfect opera for those who prefer their laughter sandwiched with a slice of wry.
Sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.
Performances held at the Keller Auditorium.
Performance length is approximately 3:20, including one intermission.
Audio description performance is Thursday, February 11.
Download the study guide here.
(The study guide requires a pdf reader. If you do not have one, please download the Adobe pdf reader here.)
|Fiordiligi ||Lauren Skuce|
|Dorabella ||Angela Niederloh|
|Ferrando ||Ryan MacPherson|
|Don Alfonso||Roberth Orth|
| || |
|Conductor ||George Manahan|
|Original Director||James Robinson|
|Stage Director ||Elise Sandell|
ACT I — The sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are engaged to two young men, Guglielmo and Ferrando, respectively. The men have an older friend, Don Alfonso, who bets that he can get their sweethearts to fall in love with someone else. Ferrando and Guglielmo take him up on his wager, agreeing to do whatever he tells them. Don Alfonso enlists the help of Despina, the women’s maid, who is just as worldly wise as he is. The men enter and tell their sweethearts they have joined the army and must leave. After a tearful farewell, in which everyone promises to be faithful, the men return, disguised as dashing “Albanians,” and proceed to court each other’s fiancée. The women at first reject them, prompting them to fake their suicides. Despina, disguised as a doctor, "cures” them and the women begin to show some interest in their exotic admirers.
ACT II — Urged on by Despina, Fiordiligi and Dorabella decide that a little flirtation with the Albanians would be permissible. Guglielmo (still in disguise) renews his seduction of Dorabella and eventually succeeds in getting her to proclaim her love for him. Ferrando redoubles his efforts with Fiordiligi and she eventually succumbs to his charms. Don Alfonso arranges a double wedding, with Despina in disguise as the notary. Just after the women have signed the marriage contract, a military march is heard off-stage, representing the return of their sweethearts’ army regiment. The “Albanians” flee, soon to return as Ferrando and Guglielmo. The men seem shocked when they discover that their fiancées were about to marry two others. Eventually they admit the deception they’ve played on Fiordiligi and Dorabella, as do their co-conspirators Despina and Don Alfonso. The young couples acknowledge that they have learned an important lesson in understanding and forgiveness.
–Edited for the New Mozart Edition (Neue Mozart-Ausgabe) by Faye Ferguson and Wolfgang Rehm. By arrangement with Bärenreiter, publisher and copyright owner.
Così’s Nervous Laughter
“Let us make love at our convenience, to flatter ourselves.” —Lorenzo da Ponte, Così fan tutte
Così fan tutte is problematic. It troubles us. It stretches our credulity. It arouses our indignation. It unsettles us. Our laughter is nervous and uncomfortable. And yet, it is a masterpiece precisely because it manages all of those things. It is a comedy that demands that we take it seriously, that we turn it over in our minds, straining to reconcile a libretto that supposedly invites us to dismiss it and the music which requires us to believe it. If we cannot believe the truth and beauty of the music in Così fan tutte, can we trust the impression of our ears and hearts with any of Mozart’s music?
This seeming disconnect between music and libretto has bedeviled critics and audiences since the opera was revived in the 19th century. Critics have implied that it was a noble failure, a failure of “architecture.” The Romantics of the 19th century could not reconcile their vision of Mozart to this “immoral” play by Da Ponte. Beethoven and Wagner felt that the frivolous libretto was unworthy of him. Others muse that Mozart’s talent, his voice of God, could not write music to match such a childish scenario, and therefore his music is sublime because it was impossible for him to have created anything other than sublime. But that justification rings hollow. For a genius of Mozart’s caliber it makes no sense that he did not write music exactly as he wanted it, whenever he wanted it. If Da Ponte handed him a comedy, and Mozart wrote him an opera seria, then Mozart would have been, as musicologist Ernest Newman said, “…an ass. But Mozart was very far from being an ass.” And so the question remains. Why are we so uncomfortable after an evening at Così fan tutte?
We know that it is an “original” libretto by Da Ponte. Whereas Da Ponte’s other librettos were typically translated re-workings of other plays or librettos, Così is usually credited to Da Ponte alone. Most essays on the subject mention the 19th century canard that the action of the opera is based upon a true story of 18th century Vienna, suggested by the Emperor Josef himself. This is highly unlikely. There are no contemporary traces of such a scandal, and Josef was too ill at the time of the opera’s commission to have spent very much thought on it. Most of his available energy was spent running the campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The most likely source of this delicious, if dubious, explanation is 19th century desperation to mitigate Mozart’s responsibility for what was felt to be a reprehensible plot. The reasoning goes: if Mozart did not choose the topic, and was in no position to refuse it, then it doesn’t matter what we do in an effort to make the plot acceptable to us, as long as we preserve Mozart’s heavenly score. And producers during the 19th century had no compunction at all about mangling the plot to fit their needs. Evidently, Da Ponte’s artistry is of little or no concern.
There are other theories about where the plot came from. Anne Livermore contended in the 1960s that Così fan tutte had its roots in two plays by Tirso de Molina—the original author of the source material for Don Giovanni. This theory has been dismissed as wishful thinking and loose translation, but an examination of the argument leads one to conclude that there are intriguing, though stretched, similarities of plot. There is also a similarly long stretch in the theory that Così fan tutte is a flimsily veiled commentary on the “Kornman Scandal,” which deeply involved Guillaume Kornman (co-founder of the French mesmeric society), his adulterous wife, her lawyer (none other than the notorious Beaumarchais*), Salieri and Da Ponte! It is true that Da Ponte suggested a plot similar to Così to Salieri (who rejected it) and it is true that mesmerism was thoroughly lampooned in Così fan tutte, but the opera goes far beyond any obvious parallels.
Andrew Steptoe offers the most satisfying explanation for the strange tale of Così fan tutte. He suggests that Da Ponte simply blended two very pervasive literary themes: the myth of Cephalus and Procris with that of the “Wager.” What Da Ponte did that was truly original was to combine these two themes and to flip the motivations of the original protagonists on their heads. Ovid tells the tale of Cephalus, who married the lovely Procris. Suspicious of her fidelity, he creates an elaborate ruse, in which he leaves home, returns disguised as a romantic stranger to woo his own wife, is rebuffed, but upon offering her rare gifts, is accepted. When he reveals his true identity, Procris is mortified and leaves Cephalus. They are later reunited to share other adventures. Ovid was avidly studied by Da Ponte, as were the poets Tasso and Ariosto. Ariosto had made the Procris theme his in his tale of Rinaldo, who also tests his wife’s faithfulness by wooing her in another guise, but her righteous anger at being tested in such a way causes her to leave Rinaldo, and he is left wandering bereft. In Ariosto’s work from which the Rinaldo tale occurs, many familiar names appear: Rinaldo disguises himself as a wealthy suitor from Ferrara (Fiordiligi and Dorabella are ladies of Ferrara); Fiordiligi is a faithful wife; Doralice is a faithless lover and then there is the flirtatious Fiordespina. Da Ponte changes the motivation of both of these tales of deception by making his heroes not suspicious of their lady loves, but eager to defend their honor. This mirrors the second large theme of the “Wager.” The wager motif, which is seen in tales from Cervantes to Shakespeare, involves a man forced to defend the honor of his lover by participating in a wager. These wagers usually end in disaster. Da Ponte takes these themes and doubles the number of lovers, creating a perfectly balanced classically conceived libretto. The artistically satisfying symmetry of Così, with its beautifully paired six characters, is as undeniable as the beauty of Mozart’s music.
So what are we to make of all this? If we take Mozart’s score as a brilliant parody of opera seria, we feel duped by Mozart during the incredibly passionate seductions of the second act. How can we possibly accept that these besotted new couples can return to their conventionally acceptable pairings at the end of the opera as is traditionally the case? Even with a now-beneficent Alfonso reminding them that real love is preferable to their idealized notions of love, this ending rings hollow. Equally, if the director chooses to leave the seducers with each other’s original fiancées, can we truly believe that these new pairings based on deception can really work out? Bernard Williams offers us another option, one that is equally upsetting, but for a completely different reason:
Mozart meant his music. Fiordiligi and Dorabella experience their exciting new passions, as do the men seducing them. The emotions are true and deep, but real life makes its “bleakly reasonable demands.” In other words, “emotions are deep, indeed based in reality, but the world will go on as though they were not … the social order, which looks to things other than those emotional forces, will win out.” Fiordiligi will have made a connection with Ferrando, and it will be unlikely that she can find the same kind of passion with Guglielmo, but the expectations of the world demands her faithfulness to the status quo. That may be the bitterest pill of all. In this interpretation, the ambiguity arises not from who winds up with whom, but whether the opera condones the validity of life’s mundane demands to the detriment of “true love,” or merely illustrates how this is so. Our discomfort then lives alongside our laughter. The situations are funny; the characters may not always be so.
In the end, Così fan tutte is an unequivocal masterpiece, because it manages to wed our discomfort and our laughter. It is very, very funny. And it is very, very troubling. It is one of those most rare and wonderful evenings in which comedy and drama meet and meld until one cannot tell that there is any difference between the two at all. One is left laughing … and pondering. If we take it as simply a romp, we are missing something; if we take it purely
as a serious commentary, we are missing something else. Così is an entertainment, but not a simple one. Best to allow ourselves to laugh and ponder—and to revel in the ambiguity.
* Beaumarchais was the brilliant French playwright responsible for Le mariage de Figaro, the source material for Da Ponte’s libretto for Mozart’s masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro.