After the high romps, the fast action and the deep drama of the first two Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations “Così Fan Tutte” (subtitled “la scuola degli amanti”) may perhaps (to some) seem to come as a slight disappointment. Part of the problem is the plot in which the two ladies are asked not to recognise their lovers when these are disguised. Surely, even in masquerade, mannerisms must give some clue as to the “Albanians’” identity, most of all their perfect Italian! We have to accept the convention, however. Theatre is all about conventions and refusal to acknowledge them would rob us of even the finest moments of Shakespeare’s plays.
Another problem is the morality of the story. Does one only really get punished if one is found out? During Mozart’s lifetime this gave little cause for concern but in the nineteenth century it was considered risqué and the words had to be bowdlerised so as not to offend the rising moral classes.
In today’s equal opportunities societies there is an added difficulty in the fact that is it really only women who are all the same? How disparaging! And how about the men? But, reading between the libretto’s lines both sexes are seen to be obfuscated by their own illusions (or delusions) in equivalent measure.
However, familiarity with Così reveals it to be the crowning achievement in that remarkable partnership with perhaps deeper psychological insight and certainly some of the sublimest operatic music Mozart ever wrote. (Incidentally, Così is one of only two libretti written by Da Ponte not adapted from other works but quite new – indeed originally written for Salieri, of all people!).
In Così Mozart now plunges into arias without any preliminary orchestral introduction, adding more immediate dramatic force, and introduces several features which would become clichés in lesser hands in nineteenth century opera but which still served a dramatic purpose in his works, like “oompah” accompaniments and almost Rossinian conclusions.
It was the crowning achievement of Lucca opera’s season of Mozart-Da Ponte too. An opera which can, to some, have its tedious moments and incredulous situations was performed with aplomb and had everyone engaged, engrossed and enthralled to the last drop of the curtain.
As with the previous two operas, the orchestra played an eighteenth-century chamber ensemble arrangement by Johann Wendt (1745 – 1801, a contemporary of Mozart and the Imperial Orchestra oboist at the Court of Vienna, as well as author of numerous transcriptions of contemporary works) and the whole production was made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Municipality of Monte Carlo.
The cast was as follows:
Fiordiligi Valentina Corradetti, Dorabella Nadia Pirazzini, Guglielmo Mattia Campetti (again master-mind and genius of the whole project), Ferrando Paulo Paolillo, Despina Anna Maria Sarra, Don Alfonso Giovanni Mazzei.
The conductor was again the indefatigable Jonathan Brandani.
It would be pointless to highlight particular cast members (although, for me, Anna Maria Sarra’s maid/doctor/notary was the evening’s starlet) . All performers were all of an amazingly good standard and executed their parts immaculately. There is a particular problem here in that Mozart’s voice conceptions do not exactly correspond to modern definitions of soprano, mezzo etc. (Dorabella could be sung by a mezzo whereas Fiordiligi can only be a soprano) but this was seamlessly overcome.
What is more significant was the absolute teamwork – a sense that the whole was greater than the parts. Overriding all was the wonderful way the production entered truthfully into the spirit of Mozart’s creation and its sensibilities filled with paradoxes and enigmas – cynicism v compassion, intolerance v pardon, blame v remorse, and heroism v bathos – as befits a “dramma giocoso”..
As in Lucca Opera’s previous productions there was plenty of extra wit added, starting from the very beginning when the orchestra did not open with the overture but with Nokia’s telefonino theme – a hinting way of reminding audiences to switch off their mobiles (particularly noxious interferences with regard to my concert experiences in Italy). The scene where Despina disguised as a doctor uses the power of magnetic medicine had the orchestra and the actors emphasising the trills convincingly to quaking proportions. Again, the petiteness of the eighteenth-century theatre did away with any proscenium arch separation to really involve the audience in the action.
Both performances were sold out weeks before. I’m sure that as news of Lucca opera’s Così’s quality spread it could have been sold out for many more stagings. I only hope that some professional video recording will relay the charm of the production to those who weren’t lucky enough to see and experience it.
The fortieth anniversary of the re-opening of the delightful Teatro dei Rassicurati could hardly have been celebrated in a more brilliant fashion than with this opera festival which will continue next January with Rossini’s Barber.