Così fan Tutte

St. Paul's Opera, 2018

While the late 1700’s may have been the height of the operatic form, the 1990’s were perhaps the height of the Romantic Comedy, with stories like You’ve got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry met Sally. This production was rooted in that world — the world of Nora Ephron’s 1990’s New York Romantic Comedy, steeped in sentiments long expressed in Western cultural narratives: that we have a “soul mate,” that love will lead to a happy ending, that fairy tales can, and do, come true.

But in Cosi, Mozart and DaPonte provide an incredibly modern and nuanced interrogation of these themes. Their characters are wrestling in the muck of human emotion and fighting just to survive. They ask questions we’re all asking — What do we actually want? How do we find happiness? And what if it’s not what we thought it would look like?

The couples in show idealize one another — the girls want the white picket fence, the boys want angelic, uncomplicated women. And it’s not until they’re confronted with the truth of their feelings that they begin to develop an awareness of the alterability of their circumstances — of their ability to opt-out of these culturally ingrained narratives and choose a different path. 

By turning these classic, filmic narratives on their head, we throw into sharp relief an emotional nuance opera, and no other art form, can provide. By uniting words and music, and giving character the space for psychological interrogation, the neuroticism of love, that essential trait of the individual, becomes realer and more present than the cultural narratives we blanket on the human species. The two-dimensional world of filmic perfection becomes visceral and imperfect on stage.