Così fan tutte is the last of the three great operas written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Opera lovers will know this of course and because we’re fans of all things Italian, we loved that it was performed in Italian at the San Francisco Opera in November.
Così fan tutte was conceived and composed during the last part of 1789, which was apparently an especially tough time in Mozart’s life. It was a period when Mozart was plagued by rumors of his wife Constanze’s flirtations, a theme that is prevalent throughout the opera. that certainly mirrored the plot of his new opera.
Yes, the plot is all about jealousy and fidelity, with two men pretending to go off to war (partially as a joke), just to see if their fiancées could remain faithful. It begs the question: how well do we really know our partners? As the opera orchestrators remind us: “we might disagree about what exactly Mozart and Da Ponte intended with this opera but one thing is clear—it is one of the most profound and disturbing of all comedies.”
Interestingly enough, I was disturbed by the calamities which occurred, which you could argue, is the case for all operas, no? This one touched a cord however, not unlike the movie Slanted Door did in a way — what if we changed our actions for one day of our life? Our entire outcome of our life could be different as was the case with Così fan tutte.
Così was first performed in Vienna on January 26, 1790, the day before Mozart’s 34th birthday. It turns out that the frivolity of the theme went down well with the Viennese, but its initial run was cut short after only five performances by the death of the Emperor. Times were indeed tough in the 1700’s, something we often forget in modern times.
Mozart and Da Ponte set their opera in a variety of rooms and gardens in 18th Century Naples during a 24-hour period, however the opera set in San Francisco took on a more modern flavor of course, set in a country club in the 1930’s on the east coast of the United States. As for the music? Profound as Mozart always is.
“Even when Mozart is setting the most bitter and angry words his music for Cosi is perhaps the most voluptuous he ever composed, and the miraculous way he utilized it has led some critics to consider Così his most profound Italian comedy.”
The scene below is where they had staged the two main male characters Ben Bliss as Ferrando and John Brancy “stage” going off to war. Cunning Ferruccio Furlanetto (below) who plays Don Alfonso (the manager of the country club) is behind it all.
The below scene was humorous to say the least, as they show up disguised (moustache) and clothing, in their first appearance trying to woo the girls over, seeing if they would fall for another man’s charm.
The girls (Nicole Cabell as Fiordiligi and Irene Roberts as Dorabella) start off saying that they could never deceive their true loves and several scenes are overly dramatic showing their sorrow at them leaving for war. It is of course, short lived.
The maid Despina (played by Nicole Heaston – shown below in the center) gets involved as well as she encourages Dorabella and Fiordiligi to play on the “wild side” and live a little.
Below, one of the scenes in Act II as Despina continues to encourage the girls to flirt and play with the new men they just met, who were of course in disguise. She was of course given a bribe by Don Alfonso. Naturally.
Despina gets creative as she swaps parts throughout the opera. Below she is called in as the doctor to assist. Her character was so endearing that in the end, she became my favorite. Irony after irony. Comedy after comedy.
In the scene below, you can’t help but wonder if all three women were in on the charade from the very beginning.
A love scene where they were both caught in the act….
Below, the front of the opera house before Così fan tutte started. As always, the building was part of the magical experience of the evening.
Below, Anthony and I during intermission.
More Details about the SF Production
Director Michael Cavanagh’s Mozart-Da Ponte Trilogy sets the three masterpieces produced by the partnership of Mozart and Italian poet Lorenzo Da Ponte within an American house over three eras. The multi-season project launched in 2019 with The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) set in colonial times when the manor house is newly completed. Così fan tutte takes place in the 1930s and the house, now at its zenith, has been converted into a playground for the rich, Wolfbridge Country Club.
The first three performances of Così fan tutte (November 21, 23, and 27) were livestreamed. This new initiative to stream select San Francisco Opera performances live (on-demand viewing is not available) began last month with the Company’s new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, which we also saw. Be sure to read our review and also check out our Arts section.
The SF Opera is located at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center on 301 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. Visit their website for more information including upcoming performances and how to reserve tickets.