Così fan tutte



photos courtesy of Paul Sirochman

COSÌ FAN TUTTE by W. A. Mozart
Conductor: Christopher Macatsoris
Cast: Whittington/Nguenang, Dawson/Schenk, Mancasola/Atevysian, Whitney/Hacker/Kent, Adams/Bybee, Noyola/Courville
Production: P. Harrison (scenery), V. Starr (clothes), A. Doak (lighting), N. Kidd (Hair/Make-up)

A Così fan tutte that is believable

by Steve Cohen

Mozart: Così fan tutte
Academy of Vocal Arts, Philadelphia
November 2013

Paul SirochmanThe three collaborations of Wolfgang Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte are regarded as masterpieces.

Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro undoubtedly are theatrical classics, but their third work, Così fan tutte, is problematic. Its story has struck many viewers as preposterous and the characters as unrealistic.

The plot, you will recall, is about an older man telling two soldiers that their fiancées won’t be faithful to them. He says a woman’s constancy is like the phoenix-everyone talks about it but no one has ever seen it. The soldiers accept a bet and put on disguises, woo each other’s fiancées (who happen to be sisters) and seduce them.

The title literally means “Thus do all [women]” and is sometimes translated as “Women are like that.” That is a sad commentary on the attitudes of European men during the period of so-called Enlightenment.

How could the girls not know their own lovers? Some productions have portrayed the girls as adolescents, hence immature and fickle, yet that still didn’t answer the question about not recognizing their own fiancées.

Director Nic Muni set this production in the 1960s. Turns out that he solved the problem convincingly, and finally we have a Così that’s believable.

The soldiers and their fiancées seem like many young people in the 60s, smoking pot and tripping on acid. In Da Ponte’s 1790 libretto the boys pretend to sail off to battle and return disguised as mustachioed Albanians. In Muni’s translation they say they have to ship out to Vietnam, then return in hippie regalia, with full beards. A hookah pipe and a potted marijuana plant are on the stage and when the girls get stoned they can’t recognize their own lovers.

(The Muni text was projected above the stage, while the singing was in the traditional Italian.)

The newcomers party with the girls to the point where they can’t see anything accurately. What’s more, the drugs cause the girls to relax their inhibitions and indulge in their fantasies of sexual experimentation.

In Muni’s concept the boys are ROTC (training company) officers in the U.S. Marines and the ladies are young, wealthy socialites. Alfonso, who organizes the ruse, is a military officer who served in Vietnam. It raises the provocative question: What could he have experienced in his career to make him so cynical?

Mozart and Da Ponte called attention to inequalities between the titled and the ordinary people. In this production the class system was economic. The young couples are privileged folk who attended Harvard and Vassar and summered on Martha’s Vineyard. Despina is their oppressed domestic who asks, “Why should they get the taste and I only the smell?”

Another novelty in this production was the casting of first-year AVA artists in all of the roles. We should keep in mind that the school has a rigorous audition process, and every singer who is admitted already has a college or music school degree and extensive experience.

All of the six principals looked attractive and sounded fine. Soprano Melinda Whittington was a fiery Fiordiligi, singing the opera’s most challenging arias, a powerful “Come scoglio” (Strongly founded) when she resisted temptation and a touching “Per pieta” (For mercy) after she succumbed. Mezzo Julia Dawson was adorable as Dorabella, Jonas Hacker and Michael Adams were stalwart as the soldiers Ferrando and Gugielmo, Daniel Noyola commanding as Alfonso, Anush Avetisyan tempting as Despina.

Christofer Macatsoris conducted the orchestra magnificently, with lilt and pensiveness and anger where each were called for. No matter what one’s opinion of the story, everyone must agree that the music is Mozart at the top of his game.

Text © Steve Cohen
Photo © Paul Sirochman


COSI model-sky gradient lowres-1




Premiered six months after the storming of the Bastille, this incredible opera was born during a time of unprecedented social upheaval. Unlike the two previous efforts of Mozart and Da Ponte, Così was not based on an existing piece of literature. It is an original story (though some believe it was based on an actual event). As an original story, it allowed the authors a chance to express themselves more personally, reflecting more acutely — though perhaps unconsciously — the profound issues of the time. It was immediately dismissed as frivolous, immoral and unworthy of the musical genius of Mozart and during the next one hundred and fifty years, it was largely ignored. On the occasions it was produced, it was bowdlerized, twisted, altered beyond recognition.

COSI model-sky-night party lowres-1For this production at the Academy of Vocal Arts, we are setting the piece during the 1960’s of America, also a time of extraordinary social upheaval: the conservative values of the 1950s colliding with various initiatives of social awareness such as Feminism, Civil Rights, the Sexual Revolution, Hippies, Anti-War Protests, the “Turn on and Tune out” use of drugs. The concepts of Honor, service to country and family values are born by the two young couples: the boys are ROTC Officers in the U.S. Marines and the ladies are young, wealthy socialites — future valedictorians at Vassar.

Alfonso is the retired commanding officer of our two young Marines. He organizes the ruse in which they are deployed to Vietnam, the guerrilla war of certain death. The young men return disguised as hippies to woo the girls. The cynicism of Alfonso is highlighted by the fact that he is a military authority. How could such a man betray the values of the Corps? What could he have experienced in his career to make him so cynical?

The class system is economic: the young couples are from the privileged class, well educated at Harvard and Vassar and summering on Martha’s Vineyard. Despina is their oppressed domestic — “why should they get the taste and I only the smell?”

COSI model-sky-night lowres-1Scenic Designer Peter Harrison sets it all on a seaside beach/patio.

© 2013 Nic Muni | Stage Director | Artistic Direction | Teaching | Dramaturgy | Design | Site by RC