It is always a pleasure to visit Fiordiligi and Dorabella, the sisters from Ferrara, who live by the seashore in Naples. Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte have made them immortal in Cosi Fan Tutte. The pretty ladies appear in all kinds of places that have nothing to do with Ferrara or Naples. We do not know how or why they ended up in Naples. Ferrara is a very nice place too, but we do not care.
What we do know is that they are madly and deliciously in love with two handsome men (Guglielmo who has the hots – sorry, sorry, foul language – who adores Fiordiligi and Ferrando who has the equivalent passion for Dorabella. I am doing them an injustice by not using more flowery and powerful language about their love but let us just say that they are completely crazy about each other.
The Met’s 2014 production, directed by Lesley Koenig and conducted by James Levine that was broadcast live six years ago is now streamed to divert us from the horrors of COVID-19 and coincidentally from the almost equal horrors of the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There could not be a better antidote.
No political debate can withstand the delicious melodies and singing of the cast. Soprano Susanna Phillips was is the determined sister Fiordiligi, who gets some beautiful arias including the torture chamber for sopranos, “Come soglio.” The high and low notes come like gusts of wind and the singer must negotiate them quickly, accurately, and not lose a beat. Phillips manages the aria quite marvellously and we are sure she will never betray Guglielmo (baritone Rodion Pogossov).
Mezzo soprano Isabel Leonard is the lovely Dorabella and she worships the irresistible Ferrando (tenor Matthew Polenzani). He gets to sing the splendiferous “Per pieta” begging forgiveness. Superb singing and acting by Leonard and generally.
The juiciest part of the opera is probably that of the maid Despina sung by Danielle de Niese. She gives us a lively, cunning, conniving spitfire of a maid with a huge store of energy. She is funny, rebellious and a delight vocally as well as theatrically.
The schemes that propels the opera is devised by Don Alfonso sung by baritone Maurizio Muraro and he succeeds because he has Despina as his partner. They are a perfect earthy antidote to the lovers who are somewhere in the clouds.
Interestingly Fiordiligi succumbs to Ferrando and Dorabella to Guglielmo. In the end can we ask who loves whom? In some other reality (I can’t say real life) would the girls send the men to hell for their lack of faith?
Cosi Fan Tutte is produced frequently and directors and designers strive to find different venues for this delightful work. Koenig takes a light and traditional approach to the opera. Beautiful gowns for the ladies and eighteenth-century clothes for the men. We could be in Naples with the blue sea stretching beyond the house and a sailboat in the harbour.
There is no display of opulence and the interior of the ladies’ house appears quite middle to lower class. Is their passion for the men directed as much to Mammon as to Eros?
Directors frequently try to expand the meaning of the opera and I’m always interested in what milieu they set the action. At times it is set in some outlandish places with mixed results.
A recent Met production had the lovers on a beach on Coney Island in the 1950’s complete with circus performers, a snake charmer, sword swallowers and a 643 lb. woman.
Atom Egoyan in his production for the Canadian opera Company set the action in a school for lovers run by Alfonso. The students made up the chorus and there were numerous over-sized butterflies. Imaginative and enjoyable.
Director Christophe Honoré for his 2016 production of Cosi for the Aix-en-Provence festival, set it in an African slum, where men were abusing women and perhaps even raping them. A frightful sight that jars completely with the view of the opera as a comic romp through the vicissitudes of love.
The lovers have been seen in a Mediterranean resort in Augurs 1914. There is no small irony in their sole concern being whether women are unfaithful as the guns of World War I begin their devastation.
There are many such diversions which have their place no doubt. I want to se them all but for now I prefer the classic approach of a wonderful three and a half hours of musical and vocal splendour while Biden and Trump duke it out.
Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte was streamed on September 29, 2020. For more information visit: www.mwtopera.org