Reflection: 'Cosi' offers something to think about within glorious music
Since the Beacon began, Associate Editor Bobby Duffy has shared his reflections on each production by Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Until today.
The time has arrived when even this perpetual motion worker is proven to be human. He could not be everywhere and the joy of going to an Opera Theatre opening night would fall to someone else.
And “Cosi fan tutte” fell to me. Thank you, Bobby.
The plot is as unrealistic as can be: We meet two sisters so desperately in love that, when their young soldiers are called instantly to war, the girls are going to die of despair. But the young men are not really off to test their mettle in combat, they are off to probe the faithfulness of the young women, and return disguised as flamboyant Albanians. Behind the ruse is the cynical Don Alfonso, who claims that no woman can be faithful. And he enlists the help of the girls' maid, who prods them to play at love as men would do and entertain the new suitors.
Intrigue, tears, slapstick, laughter, vulgarity, imperiousness. All are wrapped around some of the most beautiful music ever created. And the Opera Theatre production puts the entire package together with a lovely bow.
The prettiness is not without some heft, however. This production was most effective for me because it was in English and because the acting was superb. That does not mean that the voices were not first rate. They are. But because I could understand the words, and because the singers (particularly Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Fiordiligi) conveyed internal conflict as naturally as they showed glorious range, the drama part of a comedic opera was clear.
When: 8 p.m. June 6, 9, 14 and 22. 1 p.m. June 20
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road (At Big Bend)
How much: Seats start at $25
More information: www.opera-stl.org/
These are girls who believe in love and believe they are in love – two separate things. Remember they are young and malleable. Note that those on whom they should rely for support conspire against them. They fail the test, but was it ever a fair field? And are they true to love?
Fiordiligi fights against sin, betrayal and her desire. She believes that going against her vow of love is wrong; but if this new emotion is true, was the fault in the old vow not the new love?
The subtitle of the Mozart-Da Ponte opera is “The School for Lovers.” And old Don Alfonso has evidently made it clear that a faithful woman is a myth, a fable such as the golden El Dorado. The lesson, however, is incomplete. Although the opera ends with words of forgiveness, Opera Theatre pays its patrons the complement of letting them think. Watch the actions, look at the faces as the notes of the finale draw to a close. Who loves whom? Who should be with whom?
Then, of course, the lights go down. Coming up as the audience rises. And the well deserved applause fills the hall. Looking about as we filed out, smiles were the order of the night. “Wasn't that fun?” “How lovely.” Indeed. But what is the lesson this school has taught? We are all fools for love? No one is faithful? Which is more important, honor or love?
“Cosi fan tutte” was considered vulgar in its day and troubled “moralists,” as Craig Smith writes in his opera notes. These contrasts between comic over the top seduction and angelic music -- let alone between ideals and real emotions --are strengths. The opera should give audiences pause to think about the ambiguities it presents and the questions it declines to answer – even as they walk out into the lovely spring night with glorious music still playing in their minds.
Picnics and lunches
Picnics on the lawn are available before all performances.
Free half-hour preview lectures also are given in the Webster University Conservatory building one hour before most production.
The many supporting events include master classes and a Beacon Festival-sponsored "A Little Lunch Music," which features company lead singers on June 4, 11 and 18, each at 12:30 p.m. The first lunch fest is at the Jewel Box, the next Monday it’s at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, and it concludes at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in Chesterfield.