For years I've considered Cosi Fan Tutte my favorite Mozart opera, based exclusively on a beloved set of beat up old tapes I ganked from my parents before leaving for college (a live L'Oiseau Lyre recording, the Despina on the set, Georgine Resick, was a friend of my parents--I'm not sure if it even made it onto CD). It is 6 sides of lush unadulterated Mozartean goodness--the hits just keep on coming!
But until the other week, I had only a dim notion of what actually happened. What a treat then, to find Cosi is easily (by my lights) Mozart's most fascinating and intriguing opera as well, a judgment no doubt swayed by the Met's marvelous current production.
This is a production that truly gets how Mozart's comedies can work on stage, and for me it was something of a revelation. The comedies so often in my experience are played with about as much real humor as a concert staging. Acceptable perhaps in a drama provided the music is great, but nothing kills a stage experience like unfunny jokes. Not so with the Met's show, which is imbued with real wit and economy.
And that's desperately needed for Cosi--which skillfully plays sly comedy against the conventions of serious drama to make us question everything we think we know about its characters' emotions, the conclusions they arrive at, and what is right and wrong in their universe. Mozart and da Ponte somehow (I am still trying to figure it out) lure us into a world where we find emotional truths unmoored from morality and circumstance--an assertion as troubling in its implications as it is compelling. But more on that later.
The Met's production, James Levine's conducting, and the stellar cast of the current production capture all of these nuances admirably. Matthew Polenzani, about whom we were indifferent as Fenton in an otherwise delightful Falstaff, presents a stunning Ferrando. His Act I solo and final love duet with Fiordiligi were both excruciatingly beautiful, even if I felt his initial Act II love scene wasn't as effortless as it can be. But that could just be because of what immediately followed it--10 minutes (an hour? 30 seconds?) of utterly ethereal sounds from the mouth of Barbara Frittoli in the aria where she asks forgiveness for almost betraying Guglielmo. Everything one could hope to learn about what it is to regret is tied up in those 10 minutes, and Frittoli spun out each strand with quiet enchanting beauty.
The rest of the cast was tremendously strong as well, with some exception for Thomas Allen, who acted Don Alfonso well but faltered vocally in places. Last show with Frittoli is Friday. Do it!