In my first post on opera, Rock Me Amadeus, I made multiple references to Trading Places, which famously begins to the strains of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Little did I know that that film might be better suited to a different Mozart opera altogether, namely, Così fan tutte, an opera whose plot revolves around both a friendly wager and the exchanging of romantic suitors.
In both plot and setting, Così fan tutte promised to be a light-hearted romp reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan; however, it didn’t quite play out that way at the San Francisco Opera last week. Maybe it was because I was opera-ed out by the time I finally saw this (after a week that saw the thrilling heights of Hoffmann and the fun of live tweeting Mary Magdalene), but I found it very hard to sit down and write this post.
It was all just okay.
I should have realized this going in. I had listening to the music a few times while in the car and while working at home and nothing had grabbed me. That’s rare. Musically, I have loved all three Mozart operas that I’ve seen (Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte). All three are also highly entertaining stories, but this one just plays slow.
I don’t know why it didn’t add up for me: 1) the cast was strong overall; 2) the opera relies heavily on woodwinds, with some gorgeous cello, which usually bodes well for me; and 3) I really liked the set and costumes, designed by Robert Perdziola, even though they reminded me of Jonathan Miller’s dreaded Mikado.
Ultimately, I think it’s just that I don’t buy the basic mechanisms of the plot.
First off, the wager doesn’t really make sense to me. Although Marco Vinco is a very good Don Alfonso, I don’t really get his motivation for the bet, or why the two young friends (played by Francesco Demuro and the impressive new Adler Fellow Philippe Sly) are the ones to be involved in putting their girlfriends to the test. And, really, the two sisters (Ellie Dehn and Christel Lötzsch) give in after a day? Um, okay. And, if they really fall in love, how can they just go back to their original partner in the end? And, also, WTF? Aren’t they even slightly annoyed that this whole scam was perpetrated on them? I know most opera plots are ridiculous, but at least they are usually played that way. Even the humorous bits, usually involving Despina (Susannah Biller), were not enough to overcome my overall discomfort with this one.
I’m sure it may have been my state of mind, and maybe seeing another production would leave me with a different impression, but I don’t see this one leaping over the other three in my Mozart rankings.