MOZART - COSI' FAN TUTTE (1790) with double subs It-Eng
Agapò te Musikè 2
Published at : 22 Dec 2020
According to Stendhal, to enjoy an opera sung in a language that we do not know, it would be enough to have just a basic outline of the plot. In my view, in the case of Mozart, this would mean neglecting the close attention he always paid not only to the dramaturgy but to every word of his operas’ libretti; and, as regards those of Da Ponte, it would mean overlooking three great comedies. Not for nothing, Stendhal was one of the detractors of “Così Fan Tutte”, joining his to Wagner’s, Beethoven’s and other’s hasty and superficial misjudgments that condemned in particular its text as frivolous, if not “immoral and trivial”, “unworthy of Mozart’s genius” (so did Beethoven, and yes, “Così” is not “Fidelio”!)
- But let me say… Trivial??? You’ll never know what you’ve missed! -
Perhaps, the lack of a well-established literary source (unlike the other two Mozart-Da Ponte operas) left this libretto more vulnerable to criticism, but actually, many elements of the plot had an ancient and noble ancestry and were widely spread in Europe culture of the 18th century and in particular in the Burgtheater’s repertory of those times.
Unfortunately, a text so full of sophisticated literary and operatic quotations, allusions, sayings, proverbs was hardly conveyable in other languages (in the first performances it was available in Italian only, or in a clumsy German translation). Thus it was, in fact, altogether ignored or misinterpreted, and the work, as that miracle of balance and symmetry Mozart and Da Ponte had conceived, risked being definitively lost through the distortions, mutilations and odd adaptations to new libretti it suffered over the next century.
Besides, frivolous? Immoral? Woe if Da Ponte hadn’t treated gaily and lightly an experiment, moreover involving a wager, to demonstrate women’s fickleness! (a subject probably inspired by a recent society scandal in Vienna). It would have been unbearably hateful and cynical, if delivered too seriously or realistically (thing however impossible, within the 24-hours of the three unities rule), as well as it would have been, if rendered with an excess of buffoonery. No, Da Ponte displays all his literary prowess in conceiving a human intermingling of truth and illusion, superficiality and profundity, and in rendering it then with a predominantly humorous mode, through overt theatricality, witty parodies, and broad comedy, but not excluding moments of sincere emotion. And Mozart displays all his brilliant inventiveness in conveying, with the tiniest details of his musical choices (deploying of instruments, cadences, rhythm, modulations…), every trait of the text, from biting irony to heartfelt empathy, as and when the two couples of betrothed lose their shallowness and acquire human depth.
As always, Da Ponte’s witty, refined, and well-constructed writing offers Mozart the opportunity to insert music from multiple traditions, which responds to and furthers with equal allusive strength what the text suggests. They give proof of misinterpreting this libretto or ignoring the close collaboration Mozart-Da Ponte, those who talk about discrepancy between “Così”’s music and text, whereas, on the contrary, there are always perfect synergy and interaction.
With an intentionally ambiguous tactic, Da Ponte and Mozart bring us continually almost on the verge of emotional involvement, only to swerve again towards irony at the last moment. There's no shortage of humor even in the forgiving scene immediately before the final moral!
But, to understand and fully appreciate much of the ingenuity on the part of composer and librettist together, to grasp irony within ambiguity, to recognize the satirical intent even when the line between pathos and parody becomes finer, it is necessary to follow the words throughout the opera, recitatives included!
“Così” is preeminently an opera of ensembles, where the characters’ different emotions and views on the events can confront each other simultaneously or rapidly overlapping. I’ve unraveled their lines individually, not only to reveal all that insightful wit which traditional subtitles often cut out, but also to highlight the athletic vocal writing of one of Mozart's most difficult scores.
January 26 2020 the 230th anniversary of its premiere.
Fiordiligi: Barbara Frittoli
Dorabella: Angelika Kirchschlager
Guglielmo: Bo Skovhus
Ferrando: Michael Schade
Despina: Monica Bacelli
Don Alfonso: Alessandro Corbelli
Chorus and Orchestra of Vienna State Opera
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
directed for stage by Roberto de Simone
directed for TV by Brian Large
Recorded live at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 1996.
Riccardo MutiBrian LargeBarbara Frittoli