If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were air-lifted out of eighteenth-century Vienna and plopped into Coney Island circa 1950-something, he would undoubtedly fit right in among the brightly-lit thrill rides, oddball sideshows, and gritty vendors selling piles of popcorn and cotton candy. Picture Tom Hulce’s giggling Amadeus character skipping around the modern-day boardwalk, grinning and staring wide-eyed at the Parachute Jump and the Thunderbolt, the iconic “Steeplechase Funny Face” grinning right back at him! Which is why the setting of the Metropolitan Opera’s latest presentation of Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte, which just concluded a month-long run, seems to work like a charm. Instead of a café in Italy, the action unfolds at a 1950s American seaside resort and amusement park. From the cheap motel with bright blue neon sign, to the actual sideshow performers (including sword swallower, fire eater, and bearded lady), to the constantly-turning Wonder Wheel in the background, the Met’s colorful interpretation is a magnificent mashup of Naples and Nathan’s.
Così fan tutte follows the escapades of Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando, and Guglielmo (played by Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss, and Adam Plachetka, respectively) – two pairs of lovers who test each other’s fidelity in a game of lighthearted deception and disguise, as the guys’ friend Don Alfonso (Christopher Maltman) wagers that their fiancées are as fickle as any other girls. The boys pretend to sail off to war, then, dressed as “Albanians” complete with mustaches, they each attempt to seduce the other’s mate. In the end Don Alfonso wins the bet, hence the opera’s title – Così fan tutte – “So do they all” or, more precisely, “All women are like that.” Rounding out the cast is Despina the maid, portrayed in scene-stealing fashion by Tony winner Kelli O’Hara, forever going in and out of doors on the revolving motel room set as she dispenses radical advice to the two young ladies.
Nowadays it seems like a storyline of this type and all its ensuing action could fit into the space of a half-hour sitcom…but of course in Mozart’s pre-TV, pre-movies, pre-Internet day, an audience was probably very happy to sit through a three-hour-plus opera on a Saturday night, after a week of toiling away at blacksmith and seamstress jobs.
So let’s fire up that famous overture…and imagine the rambunctious Mr. Mozart transplanted into the twentieth century, riding the Cyclone and spinning around in polkadot teacups! Coney fan tutte!
Images courtesy scribol.com, pinterest.com, metopera.org, broadwayworld.com, en.wikipedia.org, oscarchamps.com
YouTube video courtesy Till Rye