Sunday, September 12, 2004

Cosi fan tutte at SF Opera:
Thus do they all in a time of war

Truly stunning musical moments last night at the
SF Opera's Cosi fan tutte, the formal opening of the opera's
2004/05 season. I constantly found myself very happy
while sitting at the Opera House, and that's always a
good sign. And conductor Michael Gielen is such a
genius! This was a performance of phenomenal polish;
it felt like hearing this opera for the first time. Just goes
to show what can be accomplished with a few extra

Mean-spirited NYC Met groupies nearly ran soprano
Alexandra Deshorties out of town after her disastrous
MET Constanze last year, so I was quite worried that
her Fiordiligi would be a compromised one. Nonsense.
While the great Rondo "Per pieta, ben mio" was quite
involved and exciting, Deshorties' "Come scoglio" was
simply one of the most perfect readings I've ever heard
of this aria, or even any aria, in a live performance.
Claudia Mahnke's Dorabella, Paul Groves' Ferrando, and
all others, were all in superb from. And to have Flicka
von Stade as Despina was just icing on the cake.

Of course, this was not the new production of Cosi
Pamela Rosenberg wanted to present, that one was
scrapped as a cost-cutting measure, and this was the
stop gap one. This production is set during WWI, at a
luxury hotel at a coastal Mediterranean resort town.

Director John Cox alleges that Da Ponte tells us very
little about the background of the characters in Cosi,
and insinuates that Da Ponte only sets the tale in
Naples because he wants to gain favor with his then
lady friend, Adriana Ferrarese del Bene.

Cox feels that, by setting it at an identifiable time of war,
the tale becomes more "real" because the sister's fear of
losing their boyfriends in battle is made into a point of
contact with the audience.

In fact, at the opera's final moments, Cox goes as far as
adding proceedings extraneous to the original libretto:
after all is revealed, Ferrando and Guiglielmo are actually
recalled into battle -- for real this time -- and the two
bid adieu to the sisters once again. This device also
serves the purpose that it vindicates as valid the
confusing, hurtful and ambiguous feelings that the
sisters experience, while they are caught up in the
imbroglio conceived by Don Alfonso.

Frankly, this feels like warmed over Jonathan Miller [the
obtuse English director] to me. What bothers me is not
that fear and devastation of war are not subtexts present
in Mozart's music for this opera, it is just that, as a
concept and adaptation, it is too facile, simplistic, and
blatant. So if opera is an interpretive art form, you'd hope
its interpretive manifestations could be a bit more
challenging than this.

Surely one agrees that there is absolutely nothing fun
about war, but listening carefully to the score of this
opera, one hears that Mozart's only reference to war in
Cosi is jocular music in jocular spirit, the "Bella vita militar"
chorus. A more wild and wacky konzept European regisseur
would at least have made things ambiguous and
non-sensical enough to keep you guessing, and that way
at least you could choose to ignore the unfunny war
business it if you didn't want to deal with it.

So the plot of Cosi fan tutte is pretty ludicrous. But I
believe that there has got to be more original and poignant
ways of looking at the illusion of love's permanence, or the
frailty of human nature, if one listens to what Mozart has
put into the score.


Post a Comment

<< Home