Saturday, 21 February 2015

Cosi fan Tutte

I have just been listening to what many people think Mozart’s finest opera, ‘Cosi fan Tutte’, and I wanted to say something here about it, but find that I already have. However it was over a year ago and almost nobody has bothered to look at it, so here it is again:

I mentioned 'Cosi fan Tutte' yesterday. (i.e. in December 2013) It is generally reckoned to be one of Mozart's best operas, yet it has a plot almost as silly as a message on Facebook.
The title 'Cosi fan Tutte' is difficult to render in English: something like 'They all do it' or 'Thus do they all', but Italian being an inflected language the grammar shows that the 'They' who do 'it' are women.
Two young men are boasting to each other of the virtues of their girlfriends: how beautiful, how devoted, and above all how faithful they are. As is the way with idiotic young men, each insists that his girlfriend is in all respects better than his friend's. They are interrupted by their cynical old friend Don Alfonso, who tells them their girlfriends would betray them at once if they got the chance. Much indignation, and finally they lay a bet on it. 'But', says Don Alfonso, 'You must follow my instructions to the letter'.
Don Alfonso goes off to see the girlfriends, who conveniently live together, in fact I think they are sisters. He brings them the dreadful 'news' that their boyfriends have been called up and must go abroad to fight the Turks. The boys turn up with military uniforms and long faces, then set off to catch the boat. Don Alfonso and the two girls sing the trio 'Soave sia il vento, tranquillo il mare' (May the winds be gentle, the sea calm.) It is typical of Mozart that this heart-breakingly beautiful trio is sung by a cynical old deceiver and the two airheads he is deceiving.
The boys gone, the two girls sit around drinking hot chocolate and bemoaning their fate, until their maid Despina (suborned of course by Don Alfonso) suggests they divert themselves with a couple of nice young men from the invading Turkish army. Don Alfonso duly supplies two nice young men, who are of course the original boyfriends in Turkish disguise, and each of them sets about trying to seduce the other's girlfriend. At first they are unsuccessful, much to their secret delight, but Don Alfonso gets them to fake depairing suicide, from which they are revived by a pupil of Dr Mesmer (In most productions 'he' wields an enormous horseshoe magnet; it is of course Despina in drag) and the girls relent. A double marriage is arranged, each 'Turk' marrying the (real) other's (real) girlfriend. Just as the notary (Despina again) is reading the marriage contracts, Don Alfonso dashes in to warn that the original boyfriends are back from the war. The two Turks rush offstage (to do a quick costume change into their original gear) and come back on as 'themselves'. They 'Discover' what has been going on, but everyone lives happily ever after and the girls are forgiven: Cosi fan Tutte after all.
And this outrageous mean calumnious sexist trick is what Mozart chose to hang one of his finest operas on. But: The music is beautiful.  

No comments:

Post a Comment