The Rapidian

Cosi Fan Tutte reviewed

Celebration Cinema presented live HD screening of Metropolitan Opera performance.
Serena Malfi and Amanda Majeski (left to right)

Serena Malfi and Amanda Majeski (left to right) /Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Years ago, Sir Arnold Lunn wrote a letter to the London Times. "It is said that the Latin Mass is only for the educated few," he wrote. "Surely Mother Church, in all her mercy, can make a little room even for the educated few?"

You can still find a Latin Mass, if you look hard enough. Similarly, you can find opera, although most of us don't; it's for the educated few, we tell ourselves. Not for people like us.

Don't believe it, though. It turns out opera has sword swallowers, fire eaters, bearded ladies, strongmen, and the fabulously tattooed. At least Cosi Fan Tutte does, or anyway the Metropolitan Opera's latest production of Cosi Fan Tutte does. It's not some dry, abstract performance meant for the educated few. It's a spectacle. I took it in at Celebration North, which partners with the Met to bring live, high-definition screenings of opera throughout the year.

The show opens in a Playboy club; Bunnies carry drinks as three men sit and talk. The younger two, recently engaged, loudly praise their fiancees' fidelity. The older man is skeptical. He bets that he can get the women to stray in less than 24 hours. They take that bet.

It's Coney Island, sometime in the 1950s. The set is neon, garish and heavily nostalgic; in other words, it's a blast. Teacup rides whirl. Genuine Coney Island sideshow workers, in non-singing roles, come and go. There's constantly something worth looking at, just as there's constantly something worth hearing.

The singing (unamplified, at least at the Met) was stunning. Mezzosoprano Serena Malfi particularly impressed, deploying her voice with clarity and beauty throughout. Mozart's music, while not his most transcendent, was light on its feet: graceful and spritely, if not heavenly. 

The story has come under fire in recent years for perceived misogyny. Is it there? Cosi Fan Tutte can't be defended against sexism; characters argue that all women are fickle and faithful, and no one successfully counters those arguments. Still, the men are worse: manipulative and foolish. I'd argue that the opera has a dim view of humanity, not just of women. Of course, the title translates as "All Women Do So," so I may be on shaky ground.

Well. Don't toss it into the trashcan. Audiences are sophisticated enough to roll their eyes at old attitudes while thrilling to the design and the music. And not just the educated few are that sophisticated; the rest of us are, too. Someone should really let us know.

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