The School for Lovers

The School for Lovers
Jun 06, 2024
By: Christine Brandes, Conductor

Così fan tutte, the final work in the towering trilogy brought to us by Mozart and Da Ponte, is certainly the most challenging of the three to bring to the modern stage. The overtly misogynistic libretto was seen at the time of its premiere as offensive and frivolous. Fredrich Schröder, actor and supporter of Mozart, wrote: “It is a miserable thing which lowers all women, cannot possibly please female spectators, and therefore will not make its fortune.” It is easy for us to look back and make assumptions about how women were regarded in earlier eras, but it is clear that our discomfort was mirrored by audiences in the 18th century.

While the content of the libretto is problematic, the music is absolute genius. Mozart perfectly weds his music to the text, taking us deeper into complex psychological and emotional worlds of each character, sometimes all at once! He uses an ever-shifting palate of orchestral colors, musical keys, and configurations of characters to achieve a transporting perfection. Unlike previous operas, the clarinets and violas figure more prominently and, remarkably, the trumpet is used to great effect in pieces that are not martial. For example, trumpets are deployed in Fiordiligi’s Act I aria, “Come scoglio.” In earlier operas, horns would have taken this duty, but Mozart’s choice says something about the crispness and clarity of sound he was looking for in complementing the passionate certainty of the character.

In our production for Wolf Trap, Dan Rigazzi and I have considered the challenges presented by the libretto, looking for ways to both make cuts in the recitatives and slight changes to the text to soften a bit of the misogynistic blow that this libretto delivers. Interestingly, the librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, always referred to the piece by its secondary title, La scuola degli amanti, which means “The School for Lovers.” In fact, this title is how the piece was known throughout Italy for the first 50 years of its life. We have taken our cue from this title. Rather than an indictment of women and their inconstancy, we are interested in this work as an exploration of innocence lost. As a starting point, we understand these young men to be, well, exactly that: young men full of bravado but with very little real experience in the world or of themselves. This is also true of the young women who have been leading rather sheltered lives. It is a much more interesting story when seen as an exploration of the complexity that abounds in human relationships, especially as the worlds of the young open to new, exciting, and unpredictable experiences. The young lovers discover that adult relationships are vastly different from the ideal of romantic love they fantasized about as teenagers.

Much like the self-discovery that arises for the girls, my own journey as a musician has been one of exploration leading me to the podium. As a singer, I had the privilege of working with the greatest conductors, and those experiences led me to become fully devoted to conducting. I’m thrilled to conduct my first Così for Wolf Trap Opera this summer.

Tickets on sale now for Wolf Trap Opera’s production of Così fan tutte on June 21, 23, 27, and 29 at the Filene Center.