On my way to ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’…

On my way to ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’…

…I bumped into Marivaux. And I’ll be delayed for a while.

Been trying to find  the best way to approach Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte for some time now, and lately chatting with Lucia of OpOb about it. All sources I consulted directed me to Marivaux and  that particular genre of drama that boomed in the ancien regime (Marivaux, Des Laclos, Goldoni, Beaumarchais) and Restoration (Congreve) which is often about the interchangeability of human beings, mechanical love, and the importance of money in most intimate human affairs. Some of these are incredibly contemporary — moreover, they are more accurate and with more radical sexual politics than anything we see on TV or pop culture today.

So I started reading Marivaux with the 2004 Martin Crimp’s translation and adaptation of The False Servant, which was also staged at the National Theatre in London that year. And what do you know: it’s a play with one the most fantastic en travesti (or White Shirt if you will) role I’ve ever seen, in opera or off.

Nancy Carroll plays a young woman who dresses as a man (Chevalier – Kavalier, anybody?) in order to befriend and discredit a potential unsuitable suitor, the money-chaser Lelio. Meanwhile, Lelio’s waning love interest, the Countess (played by the ever divine Charlotte Rampling) falls for the Chevalier. Seemingly, the twists of the plot require it, but actually Chevalier seduces the Countess because she wants to seduce the Countess. The long, tension-filled exchanges between the two make the central part of the play.

And the ending… is no usual denouement. There’s no denouement, period. In this regard, the reversals and plays of sexual differences are not reordered back together to their conservative early state. The play leaves everything open, and could have been written by a 20C modernist.

Chevalier: …The fact is, you love me, and your heart is mine. I’ll do whatever I want with it, just as you can do whatever you please with mine: those are the rules — which you will observe — because I say so.

“Love needs love scenes: being in love means / playing the lover’s part: / your eyes look into mine, I know that’s the sign / the cue I take from you to start.” [Musicians]

Cast & creative for the 2004 NT production here.

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13 thoughts on “On my way to ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’…

    1. It’s a quick read — one afternoon. I think the translation/adaptation matters a whole lot… I also have an older collection of five of Marivaux pieces in some quasi-Shakespearean English translation, so I don’t know how fast that’s gonna go.

      But yes, isn’t that set amazing? It looks like ‘distressed gold’ and ‘distressed silver’, if such materials exist at all.

  1. Sonds weird, and interesting! I just ordered it from Amazon. Only one in store… Darn, wanted to order two, and give one away for Christmas, now I have to first read it, and try to not desecrate it with coffee stains and the like before 😀

    I always found it worthwile to twist my mind about all concerning gender. I have a little daughter — as you perhaps know, because her pic is in my blog — and it is weird how quickly children pick up gender bias after only two weeks of kindergarten. By now, despite her long-haired dad, she is assuming that dolls with long hair are female, and that the boy has to kiss the girl when she’s playing with dolls. Despite the fact that I am quite heterosexual, it disturbs be somehow. For me, in human relationships between adults there is no “that’s supposed to be that way”. Do we fall in love with the gender of a person or with the person? I don’t know — What is the soul, which part of it is the sex of a person even? For me it never ceases to be an interesting topic.

    I just put a slashy Supernatural pic as background on my desktop (Also known as Wincest :D) to set a counterpoint.

    Thank you! ❤

  2. I know! You bring up an important one. Even friends who *GET* it somehow break down when it comes to parenting their own children — especially sons. One friend steers his son away from the dolls (he likes lingering at the Barbie section of toy stores). The other one is terrified that her son wants to take ballet lessons. The arguments they use? “I don’t want him to suffer/be bullied because of my commitment to gender equality”. (!)

    It’s probably the case that the rigid gender division — and the fear of it being disturbed — gets developed somewhere early in the course of parenting. Or is it the outside world, or most likely both? Luckily, children rebel later when other conflicting factors start affecting socialization, but boy oh boy… I don’t know how much freedom we have there growing up. I would bet some, because I discovered feminism at 11 and that changed everything for me.

    I think misogyny is closely tied to homophobia. But we can talk about this for days…

    1. I have to say that I am (now) pretty sure that gender division in kids would exist regardless of anything parents did. Being quite homosexual with 2 boys I am always astounded at how ‘different’ they are, even when I think back to avowedly tomboy me. Socialization is a factor, but so are hormones. neither need dominate but both ought to be at least seen for what they are. But as with sexuality these things are not binary choices, there is always a continuum…

      And I totally understand the not being bullied thing – having reached that age it is a very big and real problem and fear. When my kids are big enough to fight their own battles I may think differently, but right now, being a boy is tough! One of my kids is very dance oriented, if he asks for dance classes I’ll take him, but I know I don’t push it for exactly the reason your friend is afraid.

      1. I should be precise: I am not arguing there are no biological differences between men and women and boys and girls. What I’m saying is that dance-for-girls and no-dance-for-boys and fears that come with breaching these postulates get *acquired* at one point and then perpetuated (performed, in Judith Butler-ese).

        At which point they get acquired, I wish I knew. Maybe they’re acquired anew with each perpetuation? Either way, the thing is giving me headaches.

  3. Well, there are gender differences, boys are not the same as girls when growing up, no matter how hard you pretend it would be all the same. They develop in different leaps at different times, not only concerning motoric issues, but also social and empathic ones. Yet — the same rules should apply to everyone. The gender game is meant to be both ways.
    E.g., romantic example: A woman is not to demand openly, vs. the man has to read her silent wishes. If he fails to do that, however, talk! It is sometimes nice to even comply to gender behaviour, or to even slightly mock it, but it should be a game, not bloody seriousness. A person’s worth is not determined by their sex.

    Concerning the subject of bullying… A gay friend of mine, a bit over 30 by now, thought of quitting his job and becoming a kindergarten educator instead, special field of music education. Now this is difficult. I know he would do a wonderful job. He is great with kids, and a great person. Nevertheless, I just know that one hint, one accusation, along with a paranoid parent could destroy his life. I won’t want that to happen, by all means. I advised him against it.

    Just today I had a furious rant with a Turkish mother i really like, whose boy is in my daughter’s group at kindergarten. She made my day 🙂
    We both agreed we didn’t like another mothers from there, because of her views and remarks, along the lines of “You know, if my son was gay, I would just throw him out, until he comes to his senses, I mean, gays are *yuk.” … FROM AN EDUCTATED PERSON GROWN UP IN GERMANY! Her reply — and she is a muslima, by her own words 😀
    “How bullocks is that? I mean, women let themselves be b* f*ed too, what’s the difference? Okay, this lady never tried, honestly cannot imagine even how she ever managed to get pregnant in the first place. You know, my husband said the exact same thing once, I told him that before he threw out my son I would personally throw him out of the roof window instead. Half an hour later he had reconsidered his opinion. ”

    The world needs more muslimas like her please 😀

    (Another topic of hours was her complaining in turn of another Turkish mother who told her… “You must be a good cook! It is in our blood!” –“When I was born, I couldn’t cook, so it is not,” was her dry reply to that …)

    Gender. So much fuss and so much fun, too…

    1. what a great reply (throwing husband off the roof)! 🙂
      i’m thoroughly confused. am now having to handle this with VERY young nieces. nephews seem totally oblivious of gender at < 6-yr old. I play with them as i would imagine how an adult should play with kids: wrestling, climbing, running, hunting, reading, solving puzzles… One niece at only 2.5 yr-old is into nothing but pink dresses and "i'm a beautiful princess". since i don't know how to handle that, i tend to ignore her, which i know is not the right way because she feels neglected and would do more outrageous things to try to get my attention. i think here in the US, there's waaaay too much emphasis on prince comes to rescue beautiful princess on tv or books for kids. so at such tendered age, already young girls learn among other things (a) pink is the most desirable color, (b) she's not supposed to do much except to wait for a prince to come and rescue her. that's messed up.

      it's clear that boys and girls are different and that they'll develop differently due to hormones etc., but i think society/parents are putting a lot of boundaries very early on on what they should / shouldn't be/do, and any kid who doesn't fit into the norm will get picked on and bullied. i always thought you can just help your kid by keeping an open dialogue and explain to them progressively how the world works. but it's clear already at this stage i don't even know how to handle an easy situation…

      1. A famous British poet, Philip Larkin, had a wonderful line never far from my head as I attempt to nudge two boys to adulthood… “They fuck you up your mum and dad”. I think one of the most wonderful things about being a parent as it absolutely and for ever disabuses you of any notion that you are competent, mature, organised, effective, and so on. Parenting is like a ride on a roller coaster – a really badly maintained, rickety, paint-chipped kind of a roller coaster. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse they smile, or open a door for you, or use a new word in a funny way, and it all makes sense again.

        Sure parents impose ideas and values and so on on their kids, how can we help it? But whatever we want for them, they will keep what they want and reject what they want. If we are smart we try and keep in our mind at all times:

        Your children are not your children,
        They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
        They come through you but are not from you,
        And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

        You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
        For they have their own thoughts.
        You may house their bodies but not their souls,
        For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
        which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
        You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
        For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

        You are the bows from which your children
        as living arrows are sent forth.
        The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and
        He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far
        Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
        For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
        So he loves also the bow that is stable.

        Luckily neither of my two seem to show any signs of needing reminded that their thoughts are their own (just as their mess is not their own, their missing homework is noth their own, etc. etc. ;))

  4. My daughter is deeply into dolls and dresses, nail-varnish, and everything concerned girlish. This somehow irritates me, as I myself never played with dolls, and was quite a tomboy. I don’t even have a tv-set, so it is just her I suppose. She had this preferenece way before I showed her anything Disney. On the other hand, she also likes puddles, snowball fights, and working sites a lot, so I take this as a good sign.

  5. Purie and Lankin: do you co-parent or do it solo? I hear it’s a wee easier when there’s more than one person for a child to blame for the later fucked-up ness.

    My dad was technically there, but he didn’t do much parenting. So being married or coupled sometimes doesn’t make much difference in terms of how much parenting you do. Though studies have started to emerge which show that of all gender combinations, woman + woman parents tend to share most duties in parenting. We’ll see how it all pans out as atypical families develop more.

    1. I have only the utmost admiration for anyone who copes with single parenting – I co-parent. I’m sure that good or bad parenting is determined by character not circumstances (single, double, more.. gay straight… really haven’t seen a pattern at all). I know the studies you mean though really I’d be careful interpreting that data, there are very very few lesbian families so comparing patterns in that population with patterns in the much larger heterosexual family population is very tricky stuff. And if only sharing duties = good outcomes!!

      The older I get the less I think gay, straight, male, female, matters. It’s what you do with the hand fate dealt you that counts, not the hand itself!! As time goes by and the real challenges in ‘living a good life’ make themselves clear it’s amazing how few turn out to be about gender, or sexuality… not that those that are aren’t bloody annoying of course!!

      Laughing at that last sentence…. just the kind of construct native English speakers love and which drives everyone else insane…

  6. I also belong to the total fringe group who is living together — still happily most of the time ^^ — with the child’s father.
    It makes it a good deal easier, I suppose.

    Decisions… Unsure about it, I sometimes doubt we reach so many of our decisions as coldly and logically as we would like to think. I think our sexuality is in fact something that defines us. For me, it matters less which sex the person is attracted to, but the kind of relationships they prefer.
    I think I hold it with Nietzsche…

    “The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.”

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