New Year’s Eve in Vienna! Those very words evoke images and feelings of urbane pleasure and benign hedonism soaked in the soothingly cheerful tonic of beautiful music. And that is exactly what guests of Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart experienced on December 31, 1789. On that festive night a small but august group of friends sequestered themselves in the home of their beloved genius to witness the unveiling of his newest opera, Così fan tutte.
Among the invitees that evening was Franz Joseph Haydn, someone whom Mozart greatly respected and one of the few colleagues whose opinion truly mattered to him. Mozart had endured a difficult two years. Public interest in his compositions and his piano performances had begun to wane, causing increased financial stress. Much worse, it seems that he had gone through a bit of self-doubt that manifested itself in fewer compositions than at any comparable time period in his career. But with Così he was optimistic that he had turned a corner. Inviting Haydn to attend the first rehearsal was a sign of confidence.
Mozart had every reason to feel a sense of accomplishment in his new work. At every level and in every detail, Così is a creation of musical perfection that in no way takes a back seat to any of his other works. Though only a fool would try to talk down the glories of Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, this third and final collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte attains a degree of musical and dramaturgical brilliance that makes it, in the opinion of the great Mozart scholar Julian Rushton, “the profoundest of his Italian comedies.”
Let’s consider first the role of the orchestra. By the time he began composing Così in September of 1789, it had been over a full year since he had composed his final three symphonies. And yet he continued to mature as he experimented with instrumental combinations, achieving in this opera an orchestral sound palette that sparkles irresistibly with joyful exhilaration, and sighs tenderly with languorous emotion. As dramatic commentary, the orchestra goes so very far in telling us what Mozart wants us to think about any situation on stage.
His use of trumpets for harmonic underpinning creates new and subtle possibilities for an instrument that had hitherto been heard almost exclusively in tandem with the timpani. He employs horns to great expressive effect in a fashion that clearly anticipates Beethoven’s Fidelio. His use of woodwinds—in pairs, in solos, or as a serenading wind band—is more refined and subtle than anything else in the literature. And the string writing is without parallel in its scope, effervescence and precision. Appreciating these details and innumerable others, the late musicologist Nathan Broder considered Così fan tutte to be “the finest orchestral piece of the 18th-century.”
But it is Mozart’s ineffably sublime vocal writing that most obviously demonstrates the miracles of his creative gifts. For the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella he wrote music similar enough to identify their kinship, but distinctly individual. He gives both of them “parody” arias (designed to poke fun both at the character who’s singing and the conventions of opera seria), but Dorabella’s Smanie implacabili is a purely histrionic outburst, in keeping with her shallow volatility. Fiordiligi, on the other hand, is never insincere. Her Come scoglio is delivered with the same conviction as Konstanze’s Martern aller Arten from Die Entführung aus dem Serail and with similarly torturous technical requirements. It’s possible that Da Ponte had intended her second-act aria to have a parodistic tint, but the expressive poignancy of Mozart’s music lets us know that Per pietà, ben mio, perdona is a genuine outpouring of truly heartfelt emotion.
The music of the two soldiers, like that of the sisters, is also treated with great attention to detail. Guglielmo, full of buffo baritone bluster, shows us who he is with every utterance. Ferrando, on the other hand, through the increasingly ardent and expansive lines the composer gives him in the second act, transforms into a man who, despite his deceit, could conceivably become almost heroic someday. It is through the music—much more so than through the text alone—that we witness the growth and deepening humanity of Ferrando and Fiordiligi. Indeed, by the time Mozart is through with them, it seems quite improbable that they are NOT actually in love.
Così is the very apotheosis of what is known as the “ensemble opera.” Its generous plethora of quintets, quartets, trios and other ensembles constitute a bottomless barrel of the most delicious and addictive musical candy. And, of course, there are matters of form, structure, key relationships and their incumbent symbolism, quotations from other works, etc. All of these very interesting considerations simply heighten the exhilaration of those who are inclined to study the opera in greater detail.
But, alas, in attempting to address the endless musical wonders of Così fan tutte, these few paragraphs can only scratch the proverbial surface to an embarrassingly shallow degree. Yet, even volumes of the most detailed analysis would fail to illuminate the subject in any meaningful way compared to the efficacy of experiencing the opera first hand. Upon each encounter this masterpiece glitters more brightly with fresh and probing detail, encouraging us to examine our own hearts and minds under the benign warmth of Mozart’s glowing smile. It’s a fact: Epiphany is right around the corner from New Year’s Eve.
Così fan tutte
Feb. 10 & 12, 2017
Click for tickets!
1. Apparently Mozart had an extreme dislike for the soprano Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, for whom the role of Fiordiligi was first created. She had a strange tendency to drop her chin and throw back her head while singing low and high notes respectively, and knowing this, Mozart chose to fill her showpiece aria (“Come scoglio”) with constant harmonic leaps. Presumably he took great pleasure in watching her bob her head “like a chicken”.
2. While one typically sees the title Così fan tutte attributed to this opera, and translated as “Women are like that”, the full title is actually Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti or “Thus do they all, or The School for Lovers”.
3. Così fan tutte has often been called the perfect “ensemble opera”. This is due to the fact that among the small cast, the six roles are almost equal in weight and importance to the piece, thus making this an opera without the traditional “leading lady”.
4. Mozart’s own life bears a slight resemblance to the drama of Così fan tutte. A few years before marrying Constanze Weber, he was enamored with her sister Aloysia.
5. You might know that the storyline of this opera was considered quite scandalous in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and was only performed with an altered plot or accompanied by a public apology for the content. Interestingly enough, the Romantic composer Beethoven, a great admirer of Mozart’s work, is said to have written Così fan tutte off as “immoral”.
6. Mozart may be the only composer who is also namesake to a frog. The species Eleutherodactylus amadeus was named in 1987.
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha: 3 months (formerly 10 years 1995-2005)
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Oversee development, marketing, and engagement departments
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Opera is an art form about which I feel very passionate, and it is really fulfilling for me to help new folks, especially young people, get hooked on opera!
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: I write a lot!
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: Probably La Traviata. I fell in love with the tragic heroine after reading La dame aux camelias by Alexandre Dumas, before I ever saw the opera.
Your unofficial position in the company (e.g. ‘class clown’, ‘bouncer’, etc.): The Mom? staff meeting wrangler?
Your secret talent: I make awesome oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company: Glue Woman: the superhero who keeps all the details in lots of different areas moving together for the good of the whole
Outside of the office you can be found doing….: Reading, swimming, hanging out with my family and two pooches
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Helping the daily operations run smoothly.
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Seeing an event or performance transform from the beginning stages to the finished product.
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: The arts admin world is different every day so you will see me do all kinds of tasks from answering the phones in the office to handling a power drill at an event.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: The first opera I attended, Tosca.
Your unofficial position in the company (e.g. ‘class clown’, ‘bouncer’, etc.): Birthday party planner and in-house florist.
Your secret talent: I can play a full game of Monopoly without getting angry.
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company: The Replenisher. Keeping that coffee and copy paper comin’ day after day.
Outside of the office you can be found….: In a coffee shop.
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha: 4 months
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Create visually interesting and exciting communication
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Being part of a company doing such great things in our community
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: I make lists and color code all my projects. I even use an actual paper planner.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: Though I haven’t seen many, my favorite opera is La bohème. It was the first opera I ever saw my junior year of high school, and it seems extra special that is was our season opener my first year here.
Your unofficial position in the company (e.g. ‘class clown’, ‘bouncer’, etc.): Makeup Guru
Your secret talent: Photoshop
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company: The girl that gets all the projects done on time (knock on wood)
Outside of the office you can be found doing….: Playing with my two dogs, cooking, knitting, antique shopping and binge watching Netflix
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