Mozart's 'Cosi fan tutte' has come into its own

by Rex Levang, Minnesota Public Radio
April 25, 2014
Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) A scene from Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, Danielle de Niese as Despina, and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo and Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) A scene from Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, and Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Danielle de Niese as Despina, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo, Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, Rodion Pogossov (hidden) as Guglielmo, and Danielle de Niese as Despina in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, and Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, and Danielle de Niese as Despina in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi and Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Danielle de Niese as Despina, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, and Isabel Leonard as Dorabella in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) A scene from Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

St. Paul, Minn. — Mozart's Così Fan Tutte seems like a standard operatic comedy — but with a twist.

At the opening, two young men are boasting about the virtues of their sweethearts, especially their constancy and fidelity. Perhaps they are boasting a little too much. Very well, says their older friend, let's put them to the test.

Within a few hours, the boys pretend to leave town,but they return in disguise. (As "Albanians," no less.) Each of them begins wooing the other's girlfriend. Initially, they get the cold shoulder, but then — you saw this coming — the girls' defenses begin to weaken.

This all seems like familiar comic territory. But Mozart's music gives it a special dimension.

The score supports the farcical stage doings — but also hints at more elusive emotions. One example: the most famous number in the opera is a trio invoking nature. The flowing rhythms suggest gentle breezes and untroubled waters. But then a fleeting harmonic shift comes along. Suddenly there's an element of mystery in the sunny landscape. (Interestingly, the shift happens on the word "desire".)

For a long time, Così was overshadowed by other Mozart operas, such as The Marriage of Figaro or The Magic Flute. In the 19th century, it was viewed as somewhat indecent, since its women do not always occupy the pedestal on which that era loved to put them. (The title, which means "All Women Act Like That," is hardly a proper Victorian sentiment.)

But modern audiences have found that its special blend of absurdity and emotion is very much to their taste. Two centuries after its creation, Mozart's sophisticated comedy has come into its own.

The Metropolitan Opera's production of Così Fan Tutte airs Saturday, April 26, at 12 noon, on Classical MPR.


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