24 May 2014
School for Lovers
It might seem as if Mozart and Da Ponte have returned to the traditional 18th century opera buffa form with stock personages lifted from the commedia dell’arte. But this is just at a preliminary, superficial glance. A few years earlier Mozart had described a similar model in a letter to his father: “Here what is needed are two female roles of equal importance, one of them should be serious, the other — a demi-character part. And in terms of quality the roles should be equal. The third female role can be entirely comical. The same goes for the men”. But in Così fan tutte Mozart does not follow the symmetrical nature of this scheme. His characters acquire new traits: the ‘serious’ Ferrando also gets comical music, while the ‘demi-character’ Dorabella is given an aria worthy of a tragic heroine. The opera totally departs from the traditional definitions of the genre. Its authors themselves designate it as a dramma giocoso. In point of fact Così fan tutte embraces a vast spectrum of genres — ranging all the way from opera seria to frivolous farce. The comic and the dramatic are superimposed one upon the other. The inappropriateness of high pathos raises a smile, while beyond the play acting live human emotions and true drama suddenly come to the fore. The opera’s apparent superficiality conceals thoughts about the motives for a man’s actions, the fickleness of human nature, the rules governing society, and the ‘dictates of the heart’.
Submitted on 24 May 2014, Saturday