Tit for Tat

Tit for Tat

cosi-fan-tutte GUIDEThe ENO/Overture Opera Guides intro to Mozart’s Così fan tutte contains only three articles in addition to the libretto and its translation plus the usual shorter elements (discography, list of musical motives), but given the length of Da Ponte’s talkie, this should not come as a surprise. At 280 pp, it’s already a substantial volume.

Richard Wigmore writes about the opera’s genesis–who commissioned, the Mozart-Da Ponte collab on it, the casting rivalries, the choice gossip from Da Ponte’s diary and a wee bit on the historical context. Julian Rushton analyzes the music, recitative by recitative, aria by aria. What was particularly interesting was reading about the contrasting high and low/buffo styles given to the characters, but also how sometimes said styles get subverted. (For ex, Dorabella’s ‘Smanie implacabili’–is it moving, or crocodile tears? Today it will depend on the production, but the text and music allow for both. Fiordiligi’s ‘Come scoglio’ is usually sang earnestly these days, but Rushton argues that it could be read as a parody of the opera seria style. Eccetera.)

Hugh Canning looks at the performance history of Così from its Vienna premiere in 1790 till today. The nineteenth century revivals were usually bowdlerized versions (Tit for Tat, or The Tables Turned was one of them) and in Britain the opera stayed on the margins of the repertoire until 1910, when it was revived by Thomas Beecham. In 1920s, Richard Strauss was a rare prominent champion of the Così–the actual urtext version, that is–and the work saw a smattering of performances, notably in Salzburg and in Munich, and in the 1930s at the very first Glyndebourne Festival. The 1950s was a period of ‘beautiful’ sets and costumes, but once the opera gained its foothold in the repertoire, in 1960s, the interesting productions began to happen. To name a few: Peter Sellars‘ set in a diner, David Freeman’s beachside holiday setup, Johannes Schaaf’s version with sisters traumatized by the final revelation, Nicolette Molnar’s production in which to the contrary the girls figure out what the boys are up to early on and pack their bags and leave at the end, Doris Dörrie’s version set in a hippie ‘Sexual Revolution’ community, and of course Michael Haneke’s 2013 production. (Chris Alden’s NYCO, alas, does not get a mention.)

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As I’m writing this, I’m listening to on the Rdio one of the more bizarre Cosis, the just dropped Currentzis recording with Kermes and Ernman. Have a listen.

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