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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Così fan tutte

The Met opens the Coney Island Boardwalk a week early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Gee. No beer, no opera dogs..." --H. Simpson
"Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?": A scene from Così fan tutti with 
Adam  Plachetka and Serena Melfi, pushed by strongman Titano Oddfellow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 

The Met tries its hand at Brooklyn gentrification with a new production of Così fan tutte set on the Coney Island Boardwalk. (If the reviews are negative, the next one will be staged in lower Manhattan, presumably on Park Place.)

What is Così fan tutte?
Cosí fan tutte  is the last of the three operas Mozart wrote in close collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. But unlike their preceding collaborations, this opera is an original story by da Ponte. The title translates loosely as "Women are like that" and comes from a phrase in their earlier opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

What's it about?
Ferrando and Gugliemo are soldiers, hanging out in a tavern. They are bragging about their fiancées: two sisters named Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The elderly Don Alfonso challenges the young bucks to a bet: that their women will not remain faithful to their lovers. The boys disguise themselves as "Albanians." With the help of the Don and Despina (the sisters' cynical maid) woo each other's girlfriends, with surprising success.

What's the music like?
This is some of the most engaging and energetic music that Mozart ever wrote. The arias are exposed and very challenging, with Mozart reportedly writing Fiordiligi's Act I "Per pietà" to make it as difficult as possible to sing for a soprano (Adriana Ferrarese, who also created the role of Susanna in Figaro) he didn't particularly like.

What's the production like?
For this new production, Phelim McDermott continues the proud Peter Gelb tradition of annoying the Metropolitan Opera's conservative audience by moving the action of this little comedy to the glitz and glamour of the Coney Island Boardwalk. (No, I'm not joking. It's set in Coney frickin' Island, another example of Manhattanites wanting a good time and moving out to Brooklyn!)

Who's in it?
The ensemble cast features Amanda Majeski and Serena Malfi as the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their identity-switching love interests, Ferrando and Gugliemo are played by tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Adam Plachetka. Christopher Maltman is the wise, cynical Don Alonso, a stand-in for Da Ponte himself. Broadway star Kelli O'Hara takes on the challenging role of Despina, the sisters' saucy maid who is in on the scam. David Robertson conducts.

When does it open?
Così fan tutte opens March 15, 2018. Luna Park and the Coney Island Cyclone open for business on March 24.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Is there a Live in HD broadcast planned?
Yes. There is a Met Live in HD broadcast on March 31. A reprise is planned for April 4. However, to ride the Cyclone you have to take the N train to Stilwell Avenue and walk a couple of blocks.

Will the Met serve Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs?
Probably not. However, Nathan's is at the corner of Surf and Stilwell and open even in the winter months. Accept no substitutes.

OK. So no hot dogs. Which recording do you recommend?
Of the ones available, there are two ways to go: modern, and "period" (using instruments from the 18th century.) Here are two, and more recommendations are available here:

Berlin Philharmonic cond. Eugen Jochum (Deutsche Grammophon, 1963)
This is a very fine German stereo recording from the 1960s, with an all-star cast of singers. Eugen Jochum's crystalline, old-school conducting and the smooth DG analog sound are selling points, along with the superb performance of Ms. Seefried in the key role of Fiordiligi. Interestingly, this set features Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey, the two greatest baritone lieder singers of the 20th century as Don Alfonso and Gugliemo. There are a few small standard cuts.

English Baroque Soloists cond. John Eliot Gardiner (DG Archiv, 1992)
This ensemble recording was the first of the Da Ponte comedies that John Eliot Gardiner recorded and another highlight of his outstanding Mozart cycle on period instruments. It also has the benefit of being completely uncut and presented in sparkling sound.

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