Così Fan Tutte: How Mozart’s “School for Lovers” Is Still Relevant Today

Jon Philipp Gloger’s adaptation of this opera-within-an-opera is charming and youthful, where the an intricate score is matched with a brilliant ensemble cast. Yet Cosi Fan Tutte, Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s final collaboration is not for everyone. Though the content and the tone may seem antiquated, the young cast of this production masterfully draws out the complexities layered within this now popular tale. It forces audiences to critically assess the nature of love; the conclusions are, for a comedy, rather unsavoury. Then again, who said looking into ourselves would be pretty?

The farce begins with four naïve, young protagonists in Naples. Sisters Dorabella (Angela Bower) and Fiordiligi (Corrine Winters) are hopelessly in love with two soldiers, Ferrando (Daniel Behle) and Guglielmo (Alessio Arduini), respectively. The men boast about their lovers’ charms to one another, when they are overheard by their older, more cynical, friend Don Alfonso (Johannes Martin Kränzle). In an effort to educate his younger companions on the true workings of women, love and fidelity, Don Alfonso offers them a wager whereby he sets out to prove that these two sisters are as fickle as all other members of their sex. Arrogant and in love, the soldiers agree to trick their partners, assured of their virtues and faithfulness, as well as of their own, eventual, winnings.

Aided by the sisters’ mischievous and equally disillusioned maid, Despina (Sabina Puértolas), Don Alfonso sets out to instruct and guide the men in their rouse to seduce one another’s lover. Their plots see the lines between reality and stage blur further; chaos and frivolity ensues. Although Despina’s comically choreographed routines admittedly does provide some of the gayer, more amusing moments of the opera, in this production it did become apparent Puértolas’ voice could not quite hold up to the quality of Bower and Winters’. Complex, rich and (mostly) sombre, the sisters’ narratives wonderfully capture the tortuous depth of emotion involved in love, heartbreak and temptation.

Perhaps it is impetuous to suggest that the two sisters are treated more kindly by the director than they are the original narrative, yet this notion is hard to shake off. After much torment, both succumb to the advances of one another’s lovers (posed as handsome foreigners). Though the fun is largely had at the expense of our two heroines, one feels that Gloger does succeed in his attempts to draw out the subtler lessons of the opera through his direction, whether it be in the finer details of the acting, costume design or the stage direction.

Whilst ‘Così Fan Tutte’ does translate as ‘All women are like that’, it is also important to remember the alternative title Mozart and La Ponte had offered: La scuola degli amanti’ or ‘The School For Lovers’. It is not difficult to understand why Gloger’s production chooses to make the latter, rather than the former, the central concept of the production. The conflict between societal values and our base natures is far more intriguing to modern audiences than a story around the antiquated themes about the inferiority of women’s characters and their insatiable sexual desires. This is why Don Alfonso’s lesson, that because all women are inherently unfaithful and fickle all men should forgive them, fits somewhat clumsily with Gloger’s attempt to usher in ideas of mutual blame and betrayal on all parties involved. Whilst, this could be a result of the odd pacing and slightly bizarre staging employed in this production, the momentary glimpses of confusion between both couples and of the men’s own guilt do not necessarily rid Don Alfonso of his perceived cruelty.

Nevertheless, even if it is a bit obscured by the original text, Gloger and his cast have to be commended for their efforts to show the plurality of human nature. This production does not shy away from the complex ideas of infidelity, betrayal, pain and forgiveness. Given the lagging nature of most of the production, it was surprising then that the ending felt a little hurried; the audience is, to an extent, left as muddled as the main characters. Yet, there is also a sense of relief by the curtain call,
a sentiment which has to be credited to the director. Relief amongst the characters that the source of their turmoil is better understood; relief that in their faults all are made equal and perhaps relief amongst the audience that the conclusions do not offend our modern values too greatly. Ultimately, the central concepts in Cosi Fan Tutte are very much worth considering for every one of us today.

-Edited by Tom Bostock

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