The title of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 18th century opera, one of the last he ever wrote, loosely translates to “women are fickle.”
For this reason, “Cosi fan tutte” can be seen as misogynistic, stage director Michael Shell said.
Second year doctoral student Mathilda Edge, who plays Fiordiligi in IU Opera’s production of “Cosi fan tutte,” which opens Friday, said she prefers the alternate title “La scuola degli amanti,” or “The School for Lovers.”
“The men are fickle, too, and they’re learning what love is, too,” Edge said. “It’s interesting that in the title it’s the women that are fickle because the women are the ones that fall, but if you think about it, the men probably fell too.”
In the opera, the men are convinced by their older friend to trick their fiancees, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, into being unfaithful.
They tell the sisters they are going to war, but they come back disguised as foreign men and try to seduce the girls.
What neither of the men nor their friend expect is for each girl to fall for the man to whom she’s not engaged.
“Through disguising themselves, the men find out that they are different people than they thought they were,” Shell said. “The women in a way also disguise themselves because they do something that they initially thought that they would never do, which is to explore another possibility, another person. Ultimately, they learn that the relationship that they were previously in was not the one that was going to be fulfilling.”
For 1790, this opera about engaged couples cheating on each other was adventurous, Shell said.
The plot, which functions like a modern romantic comedy, is not lofty operatic subject matter, but is a relatable story that remains timeless.
Operas are usually not rewritten and the music is not changed out of respect for the composer, Shell said, but he would not want to change it anyway.
The only thing different from the original opera is it takes place at the turn of the 20th century instead of the 18th.
“Of all of Mozart’s music for voice, this show has probably some of the most sensual,” Shell said. “It runs the gamut, like he often does. He has the ability to infuse comedy into his music and at the same time be poignant and so emotional.”
First year master’s student Rachel Mikol, who plays Dorabella, said the cast started working on the music individually in October 2015.
However, they did not start staging the production until the start of the spring semester.
“It’s been really fast-paced,” Mikol said. “Once you learn the music, you just go.”
Edge, who teaches music at Clear Creek Christian School, said she tells her students music is history that can transport you to a different place and time.
The music Mozart created for this opera has a quality of brilliance that can only come from all of his musical experience, Edge said.
Mozart began composing music at the age of five.
He wrote this opera at the age of 33, only two years before his death.
“The melodies are beautiful and the emotion put into the libretto, the text of it, is just so packed,” Edge said. “The two together create this beautiful passion that comes through the music.”
The story remains relevant today because the characters are struggling with their sense of self, Shell said. It’s something that everyone can identify with in any time period.
“Identity is a huge thing that we’re all dealing with, no matter what age you are,” Shell said. “You can think your life is going to go in one direction, and then something can happen and you end up going down a path you never thought you would go down. There’s a lot of truth to it, and you can potentially see either yourselves or someone that you know in these people.”