School for lovers

Mozart's comic opera 'Cosi fan Tutte' touches on the idealism of women and the realities of love

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

Fluffy dialogue, period wooing in period costumes and lovely arias - who could ask for anything more in a comic opera?

Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian genius influenced by Italian music, wrote "Cosi fan Tutte" in 1790. Even with the competition of his other operas such as "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro," "Cosi fan Tutte" is considered one of Mozart's best.

The title translates as "thus do all women" or "women are like that." That might lead one to guess the opera is a sexist piece, but that's not so, said Nancy Simon, director of the production. The target is not the fickleness of the feminine sex, but idealism.

"Cosi" premiers Friday, combining the resources of the Juneau Lyric Opera and the Juneau Symphony Orchestra.

"The subtitle is 'the school for lovers.' It's about an older man who is trying to show young, idealistic lovers that there's more to love than idealism," Simon said.

Mozart's message is that "every time we assume we are perfect and expect the people around us to be so, too, we have probably made a mistake."

The libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte is less intellectual than Mozart's "Don Giovanni" or "Magic Flute." Simon describes it as "quite fluffy."


Simon is professor of theater at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. She has worked there since 1967, directing two or three productions a year. While on sabbatical this year, she learned that "Cosi" was seeking a director and hastened to apply. "I took the job just to have a chance to do it because it is musically Mozart's most beautiful opera."

"Cosi fan Tutte" has six principal roles: Ferrando (sung by Brett Crawford); Fiordiligi (Joyce Parry Moore); Dorabella (Cyndee Simpson-Sugar); Guglielmo (Wade Rogers); Don Alfonso (Bill Garry); and Despina (Therese Thibodeau). The principals are assisted by a chorus of ten.

Ferrando and Guglielmo are callow soldiers challenged by the more experienced Don

Alfonso to prove their sweethearts are faithful. They pretend to leave town, returning disguised as Albanians, and woo the other's woman - successfully. The entire plot occupies a single day.

"It's a really big piece, a big challenge, and a real departure for the opera from what it has been doing in the last few years," said music director William Todd Hunt. The orchestra of about 30 has been rehearsing for a month, and is sounding "great," he added.

"Cosi fan Tutte" is one of Hunt's favorite Mozart operas. "I think Mozart tended to be at his best with opera. He truly hit his high mark with dramatic presentation." The dialogue, which is sung, is accompanied by harpsichord, played by Hunt himself.

Stage manager Karen Allen is pleased with the way the production is coming together.

"This has been a fun production. It's a very new team for the Lyric Opera because a lot of our staff has moved on to other things," Allen said.

The opera will be costumed as it would have been in 1790. An Oregon designer built some of the costumes and others are being rented from a professional opera company, Allen said.

"It's phenomenal music, and it's a very lighthearted piece. A lot of the silliest conventions of romantic comedy are used: disguises, mistaken identities, young lovers trying to make sense of the world, young people discovering their sexuality in a family-friendly way," Allen said. The opera will be performed in English, which will help the audience to grasp all the good lines without the labor of translating.

The scenery consists of tall, wheeled boxes with doors. The boxes can be spun around efficiently and quickly. "The idea is to have seamless music - so the scene changes as the music keeps going on," Hunt said. The chorus moves the scenery in addition to singing.

When composing "opera buffa," or comic opera, Mozart was cultivating new musical ground, because this form had not been invented by the Italians until the previous century.

Mozart (1756-91) was everything one wants in a musician: a prodigy who composed by age five; a concert pianist who could play several instruments, including the harpsichord and violin; a perfectionist and an artist of intense personal emotion. He died in poverty at age 35 and was buried in a pauper's grave, but his music - from symphonies to concertos - will live forever.

"Cosi fan Tutte" plays 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday; tickets are $16 and $14 for seniors and students.

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