Cosi Fan Tutte or Tutti?

Cosi Fan Tutte or Tutti?
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<p>Photo: <em>Cosi fan Tutte</em> courtesy of Portland Opera</p>

Photo: Cosi fan Tutte courtesy of Portland Opera

Ph: Cory Weaver

The title of Mozart’s drama giocoso Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti (Thus do they All, or The School for Lovers) is commonly interpreted in English as “Women are like that”, since tutte is plural feminine and refers to all women in this case. However, when you dig a little deeper into the meaning behind the opera, you see that the broader translation as “The School of Lovers” might be a more fitting title for the work.

The comedic style of the opera seems to suggest that while there is a lesson to be learned, it is important to take a light-hearted approach to the matter. The characters are not so much in a real school, as being “schooled” in the lessons of love and it leads to some hilarious moments during the opera.

The basic plot is that two men decide to test their fiancés by disguising themselves and trying to woo the other man’s lover. In the end, even though the women fail the test of their fidelity, the men who put them to the test realize that they also have failed, their deception having contributed in equal measure to the disastrous result. One could just as easily have commented: Cosi fan tutti (everyone, not just the women) since the extreme jealousy exhibited by the men might just as easily be seen as stereotypical as much as the fickleness of the women’s hearts.

This excerpt from the Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte illustrates this point leading up to the famous refrain:

L'amante che si trova alfin deluso, Non condanni l'altrui, Ma il proprio errore. Giacchè giovani, vecchie e belle e brutte, Ripetete con me:
Così fan tutte!


The lover who finds them self disappointed in the end, Do not condemn others, Rather [condemn] their own error.Young, old, beautiful, and ugly, Repeat with me:

All women do that!

Some modern opera productions have interpreted the work with high camp to emphasize the comedic style of the work. On opening night, the Portland Opera production threw in everything but the kitchen sink with the addition of a live video-stream on the audience, background projections, singers in ape suits, and virtual reality devices strapped on the singers. The Pacific Northwest setting was also felt with a few specific details, like the temptation of the two women with a box of Voodoo doughnuts, a reference to a famous Portland late-night doughnut shop. The Albanians were dressed as typical Northwest “hipsters”, in juxtaposition to the traditional costumes worn by the sisters. The backdrop of the scenes was a forest setting complete with a couple of tents. All in all, it was a zany mix of elements. It was easy to get lost in the action on stage, but the sublime music by Mozart kept bringing home the fact it is a serious operatic work.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Mozart’s operas is his brilliant use of combinations of voices and instruments to create his characteristic sound. This opera is no exception. There are certainly some beautiful arias, but throughout the piece there are lovely duets, like the combination of the two sisters (Soprano role Fiordiligi and Mezzo-Soprano role Dorabella). There are intriguing variations on that same theme with diverse combinations of the upper register and lower register voices. The two fiancés are cast as Tenor role Ferrando and Baritone role Gugliemo. In combination with the two sisters, Mozart had four voice ranges to play with in his score and he certainly made the most of it.

As you take a step back from the experience of the opera, the classical music stands in stark contrast to the silly, map-cap style of the work. The current Portland Opera production certainly highlights this divergence, producing a surreal spectacle on stage.

Ultimately, through the brilliance of Mozart, we realize that we are all susceptible to whims, and it seems that Cosi Fan Tutti fits that message well.

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