Così fan tutte
Così fan tutte, ossia La Scuola degli Amanti, opera buffa in two acts, music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, conducted by Stefano Montanari, directed by Jan Philipp Gloger, first revival, Royal Opera, 25th February 2019, reviewed by LESLIE JONES
In Jan Philipp Gloger’s production of Così fan tutte, certain members of the cast, notably Don Alfonso, wear 18th century costume but others that of the twentieth. And, although the action supposedly unfolds in Naples under Spanish rule, “The basic topic isn’t bound to any particular time…” (Gloger, in conversation with dramaturg Katharina John, Official Programme). The subject matter, in particular the notion of human frailty, is timeless and universal.
In act 1, accordingly, Fiordiligi and Dorabella take selfies and Guglielmo and Ferrando supposedly depart for war from a railway station. Another scene takes place in a cocktail bar. A recent production of Così at the Edinburgh Festival was set in Eritrea in the 1930’s, when it was part of Mussolini’s “new Roman Empire”, with “stark portrayals of the sexual and racial tension of the time”.
He who builds his hopes
On a woman’s heart
Ploughs the sea,
And sows on sand,
And hopes to snare
The wild wind in a net
As music historian Tim Carter reminds us, the cynicism and immorality of Da Ponte’s libretto, as articulated by philosopher Don Alfonso (Thomas Allen) and the maid Despina, repelled Beethoven and Wagner (“All the World’s a Stage…”, Official Programme). And Gloger’s Così, likewise, is played mainly for laughs. Hungarian-Romanian baritone Gyula Orendt as Guglielmo and the feisty and vivacious soprano Serena Gamberoni as Despina were particularly effective in this context.
Così fan tutte combines the frivolous and the sublime. As musicologist Ian Woodfield contends, it contains “some of the most glorious music of true love than even Mozart ever penned” (Official Programme), such as the trio “Soave sia il vento” and the aria “Un’aura amorosa”. Tenor Paolo Fanale as Ferrando gave a moving performance of the latter, which drew warm applause.
In the Symposium, Plato characterises love as a quest for immortality. Mozart has surely attained the latter, if only subjectively.