By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Wednesday, July 8
Starring Susanna Phillips, Isabel Leonard, Danielle de Niese, Matthew Polenzani, Rodion Pogossov, and Maurizio Muraro, conducted by James Levine. From April 26, 2014.
This absolutely delightful opera is the last of Mozart’s legendary collaborations with the brilliant librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. It is an exuberant, if no longer politically correct, comedy of manners and morals concerning women’s fidelity – or lack thereof – and the darkly amusing fall-out it produces.
Mozart has filled the score with one sublime musical number after another, and ultimately manages to communicate a few universal truths about both women and men, and the unpredictable nature of attraction and love. The story tracks an ill-conceived wager between two young soldiers and a more experienced – and considerably jaded – older philosopher. This is the second outing for Così since the Met began its nightly streams – and to my mind, it is the far superior version. You may remember that this opera is usually set in Naples in the 18th century (think beautiful seaside town, lovely gowns and exotic, swashbuckling foreign lovers). The fun-loving quartet of young people in the previous version was uprooted and plunked back down on Coney Island in the 50’s – a setting complete with all the carney accoutrements imaginable – sword swallowers, contortionists, a bearded lady, a real live Burmese python, dwarfs and acrobats. It was weirdly over the top. This evening, we have a far more conventional – and beautiful – setting that just seems perfect for this piece.
Met music director James Levine conducts a cast of youthful stars in this version of testing the ties of love. There are only six characters in the piece, and so they all must be outstanding for it to work. Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard are the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who are led to believe that their lovers have been suddenly called off to war. Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov are Ferrando and Guglielmo, the lovers who actually return in disguise to test their fiancés’ fidelity. Danielle de Niese sings the scheming, but delightfully comic maid, Despina and Maurizio Muraro is Don Alfonso, the philosopher and mastermind of the crazy plot.
Credulity must be completely suspended from beginning to end of this wonderful opera – wherever it happens to be set. Its title – literally “Such Are They All” is a thinly veiled insult to women, and the subtitle – the School for Love – is potentially instructive, but only if you happen to be male. The (rather twisted) plot involves a bet between Don Alphonso and the young men. It is, in spite of their initially ardent protestations to the contrary, that women are fickle and can never be trusted. Alphonso is betting the ladies will quickly fall for new lovers, while the men – despite their willingness to test that hypothesis, bet their lovers will remain faithful.
So here is where the suspension of credulity becomes particularly crucial. Under Don Alphonso’s direction, the men tell the women that they have been called back to their ship and after long, ardent and tearful good-byes with many promises all around to be faithful, they leave. Don Alphonso and the sisters are left to wave from the shore as they sing the gorgeous trio “Soave sia il vento” (May the winds be gentle).
Very shortly thereafter, however, our duplicitous young men return – but this time in disguise as mustachioed Albanians – and each attempts to romance the other’s lover. At first, the women remain strong – like a rock (which is the title of Fiordiligi’s famous, and famously difficult, aria – “Come scoglio immoto resta” / Like a rock remaining motionless).
In one after the other, non-stop crazy seduction schemes directed by Don Alphonso – and aided by a handsomely bribed Despina (who appears in multiple disguises) – the girls finally begin to weaken and fall. Ferrando’s beautiful love song “Un’aura amorosa / Del nostro tesoro / Un dolce ristoro / Al cor porgerà” (A breath of love /From our treasures / Will afford our hearts / Sweet sustenance) is definitely difficult to resist, especially considering that the two “Albanians” now threaten to take poison if the girls don’t relent. The ‘poison’ is indeed drunk – and Despina, this time disguised as a doctor, has to administer “magnet therapy” in order to revive them.
To see how things are finally put (almost) back to right – with everyone only slightly older but considerably chastened – and returned to their original sweethearts – tune in on Wednesday ….. it’s a visual, musical and comical delight!
1. Don Alfonso, Guglielmo and Ferrando hatch their plot (Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso, Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo, and Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando) in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Johan Elbers / Metropolitan Opera.
2. Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
3. Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando, Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, Rodion Pogossov (hidden) as Guglielmo, and Danielle de Niese as Despina (disguised as the doctor) in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
4. Maurizio Muraro as Don Alphonso and Danielle de Niese as Despina in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2014. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera.
5. Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo (in disguise as an Albanian) in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
6. The sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are discomfited by the return of Ferrando and Guglielmo (Polenzani, Pogossov, Phillips, Leonard) in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2014. Photo Credit: Johan Elbers / The Metropolitan Opera.