A School for Lovers?

The setting is Naples, Italy, late 18th century.  Two young officers, Ferrando and Guaglielmo, boast about the beauty and virtue of their girlfriends, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella.  Their older friend, the cynical philosopher Don Alonso, declares that a woman’s constancy is like the phoenix – everyone talks about it but no one has ever seen it.  Don Alfonso proposes a wager –if they will give him one day and do everything he asks, he will prove to them that the sisters are unfaithful, like all other women. (from the synopsis provided by the Metropolitan Opera).

(Watch a clip from this delightful opera.)

Thus this wager becomes the catalyst for the story line of Cosi fan tutte, ( All Women Are Like That or The School for Lovers), an opera buffa (comic opera) in two acts by composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) on a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.  The opera premiered on January 26, 1790, at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

    Cosi fan tutte will be simulcast live in high definition and surround sound from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera to select theaters around the world at 12:55pm this Saturday, April 26.  The opera will be sung in Italian with English subtitles and will have an approximate runtime of 4 hours.  Opera lovers in West Virginia may view the production at the Cinemark Theater at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Regal Nitro Stadium 12; and Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/Morgantown, as well as at the Cinemark Theater in Ashland.  An encore will be shown on Wednesday, April 30, at 6:30pm.

    Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine will conduct this revival of Lesley Koenig’s traditional production from 1996.  Lyric tenor Matthew Polenzani and the baritone Rodion Pogossov will sing the roles of Ferrando and Guglielmo.  These competitive friends will claim that they must go off to war and then return in disguise as exotic Albanians to try to win over each other’s fiancées as challenged by Don Alfonso sung by bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro.

    Listen for the sincerely felt love song “Un’aura amorosa”, in which the dreamer Ferrando reflects on the constancy, or so he assumes, of his beloved Dorabella, as well as the aria “Donne mie” (“Dear Ladies”), in which the blustery Guglielmo denounces all women with their capacity for deception.

    The two leading ladies must handle very difficult singing roles.  They present a pair of “demure damsels” who gradually are attracted to the “foreigners.”  Lyric soprano Susanna Phillips, Fiordiligi, and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, Dorabella, have many duet passages as well as solo arias.  Listen for the poignant aria “Per pieta” (“Have pity”) when Fiordiligi shamefully realizes that she is weakening to the romantic entreaties of a stranger who is actually her sister’s boyfriend in disguise. (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times)

    Soprano Danielle de Niese sings the role of the “sassy, worldly and wise” Despina, the chambermaid who works for the sisters.  In the aria “In uomini, in soldati”, Despina advises the sisters to find new lovers since men are unworthy of a woman’s fidelity.  Despina can steal the show when she is on stage.  Watch for her own disguises as a doctor and as a notary.

    Cosi fan tutte is a difficult opera and requires great musicianship from the singers on the stage as well as the instrumentalists and conductor in the pit.  It is a wonderful ensemble opera-Mozart is able to combine the six characters into interesting musical pairings.

    Cosi fan tutte is the first opera that I ever saw live.  A student teacher took some of us to a production at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.  It was particularly memorable because a singer from my hometown was singing the role of Dorabella.

Dr. Larry Stickler is a professor at Marshall University.