Così fan tutte, Mozart’s bittersweet romantic comedy, had a spectacular opening performance at 7:30pm on Saturday, February 17th, 2018, at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The title the most sophisticated and intimate of the three Mozart/da Ponte operas, means “Thus Do All Women,” or in English “Women Are All Like That.”
In 1790, Mozart composed an opera about a “school for lovers”, where love is put to the ultimate test and plays with mistaken identities. It involves two couples who end up learning a great deal about their true feelings for each other. The cynically mischievous Don Alfonso (Alessandro Corbelli) stirs the pot with two earnest young officers, Ferrando (Andrew Stenson) and Guglielmo (Joshua Hopkins), betting that their fiancées, sisters Fiordiligi (Ana María Martínez) and Dorabella (Marianne Crebassa), cannot remain faithful for twenty-four hours. The officers depart as if they are going to war, and then return disguised to woo each other’s beloved. Don Alfonso manipulates the proceedings in cahoots with the sisters’ maid, the ever-resourceful Despina (Elena Tsallagova/Lyric debut).
James Gaffigan (Lyric debut) conducts the production, originally directed by John Cox, and is set in the elegant casino resort town of Monte Carlo on the eve of World War One in 1914, which is an interesting time period in which to set Così fan tutte. The costumes and the stage design were impeccable and seemed true to the war era of the early 20th century. The backdrop for the beach of Monte Carlo, with its ocean and beach chair accents, was also perfectly arranged for the magnificent Lyric Opera stage.
Così fan tutte is a beautifully sung opera and story in its own right, where some of Mozart’s most lovely and ingenious music is showcased for the audience. The talent of all of the cast members astounded me. Stenson and Hopkins as the young officers were hard not to like: Their appeal rubs off on you. I also was romanced and entranced by their strong tenor voices, imagining they were serenading me instead of their own ladies up on stage! Their lovers, portrayed by magnificent sopranos Martínez and Crebassa, sang the parts of the sister duo with strength, but also vulnerability. I was also highly entertained by the comic relief of Corbelli who sang the role of the mischief Don Alfonso, who believes that all women are the same and will betray their lovers if given the chance, as well as soprano Tsallagova, who was exceptionally entertaining as the scheming, clever Despina.
Despite the opera’s timeless, beautiful and emotional music, and having won over the hearts of audiences for centuries, the story itself could be considered controversial. The opera plays with ideas involving human emotions, and how love is not a game, but a living reality, inside each individual. It also portrays females as weak and unfaithful beings. There is also a discord between the callous spirit of composer Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto for Così fan tutte, as well as the amazing emotional expressiveness in the music itself. Finally, there is the unrealistic and unsatisfactory ending to the opera, where everything goes back to how things were at the beginning of the show.
Although critics will disagree whether to adore or despise the opera, the Lyric Opera’s performance of Così fan tutte was impressive with its superb cast of performers and the overall production. I was blown away by the talent that evening, which reminded me of why I attend the Lyric Opera of Chicago again and again: the amazing experience of witnessing some of the great music and stories ever composed brought to life on this stage.
COSI FAN TUTTE PRESS SELECTS: Andrew-Cioffi and Cory-Weaver (Lyric Opera, Chicago)
Performance dates for Così fan tutte are Feb. 17, 21, 26, Mar. 13 and 16 at 7:30pm; and Mar. 4 and 8 at 2pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to the LyricOpera website
Estimated running time is 3 hours 25 minutes, including one 30-minute intermission. Così fan tutte will be sung in Italian with projected English translations above the stage.