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Così Fan Tutte: Opera in the Age of Reality TV

From fake mustaches and feather hats to bell-bottoms and paisley

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In the slide show above, scenes and music from the Mozart opera Così Fan Tutte, put on by the College of Fine Arts. Photos by Vernon Doucette

Lawrence Edelson swore he would never direct Così Fan Tutte. It was too dated, its 18th-century plotline stale and contrived. So when the College of Fine Arts approached him about being the opera’s guest director, he was conflicted.

“I didn’t want to do it unless I could make it speak effectively to contemporary audiences,” he says.

He found his loophole. While paging through the libretto, Edelson was struck by similarities between the scheme of protagonist Don Alfonso and the plotlines of modern-day reality television. “Reality TV is huge,” he says. “Why not modernize Così by placing the characters in a reality TV show?”

The earliest inception of reality television dates to the late 1940s, when Candid Camera debuted. The series’ longest uninterrupted run was from 1960 to 1967. Edelson chose that era for his updated Così.

In his version, reality television show host Don Alfonso wagers that he can prove all women are unfaithful and convinces longtime friends Ferrando and Guglielmo to tell their sweethearts they’ve been drafted and are headed to Vietnam. In keeping with the original storyline, the men reappear in disguise — in this instance, flamboyant ’60s attire — to woo each other’s fiancées. Although initially loyal, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, at the urging of scheming Despina, agree that a flirtation with the handsome strangers will do no harm.

While both versions require a suspension of disbelief, Edelson says his is more plausible. “There was a lot happening in fashion during the ’60s,” he says, “and I think these disguises work better than those from traditional productions, where Ferrando and Guglielmo come back as Albanians, with gigantic fake mustaches and feather hats.”

Tenor Martin Bakari (CFA’09,’11), who portrays Ferrando, agrees. “We see far more outlandish things happen every night on reality television,” he says.

Shifting the opera from 18th-century Naples to 20th-century America changes its dynamics, says bass baritone Adam Cannedy (CFA’11), who plays Don Alfonso. “I sang the role when I was an undergraduate,” he says. “It was in-period, a completely different production.”

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Così is “musically brilliant, a real masterpiece,” says Edelson. “But by forcing yourself to stage the opera the way it was done in Mozart’s time, you’re locking yourself into something that won’t be nearly as vibrant or real for contemporary audiences.”

Così Fan Tutte is not easy to perform, according to soprano Chelsea Basler (CFA’09,’11), the production’s Fiordiligi. “My first leading role was Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, the longest in the soprano repertory,” she says. “I figured I was over the hurdle, but Fiordiligi is harder, because it goes from mid range to screaming high notes. This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.”

The opera traditionally concludes, “Così fan tutte — All women are like that,” and the characters make up and go back to their original partners. But Edelson is taking a different approach.

“I want to leave the audience with questions,” he says. “Is there a level of forgiveness? Is there a lesson learned?”

A collaboration between the College of Fine Arts school of music, school of theatre, and Opera Institute, Così Fan Tutte opens tonight, February 18, at 7:30 p.m., at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, and repeats Friday, February 19, and Saturday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 21, at 2 p.m. The opera is sung in Italian, with English subtitles. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students, members of the BU community (ID required), WGBH members, and Huntington Theatre Company subscribers; members of the BU community receive one free ticket with BU ID at the door on the day of performance, subject to availability. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 617-933-8600, or in person at the BU Theatre box office. Follow the College of Fine Arts on Twitter at @BUArts.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Così Fan Tutte: Opera in the Age of Reality TV

  • Xao on 02.19.2010 at 9:54 pm

    Mozart rules.

  • Anonymous on 02.25.2011 at 12:17 pm

    It would be nice for the writer to get the name of the opera correct. It’s very specially, Cosi fan tutte, NOT Cosi Fan Tutte.

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