It’s one of Mozart’s most popular operas – yet it’s also one of the least kind to women. “Cos fan tutte,” with its small cast, eternal themes of love and loyalty and music to swoon for, is a favorite among opera companies the world over.
Tacoma Opera, which is opening its 2012-13 season with “Cos” tonight, is no exception.
But with an Edwardian setting and a staging twist or two, the TO version has the women coming out the winners.
And that’s not easy. With a plot hinging on the antics of two guys (Ferrando and Guglielmo) willing to disguise themselves for a bet to test the loyalty of their girlfriends (Dorabella and Fiordiligi) – and the gullibility of the girls themselves – this definitely isn’t an opera for feminists. Even the title isn’t subtle, translating roughly as “Women are all like that.”
“Because of his time period, Mozart’s kind of disparaging about women, the ‘weaker sex’ and all that,” said tenor Jorge Garza, who sings Ferrando. “But in our production, some of those views have evolved, and by the end, there’s redemption for the women. ... They get back at the guys.”
As director Noel Koran succinctly puts it, “The ladies come out on top, and the guys are jerks.”
At a run-through last weekend in an Urban Grace Church rehearsal room, the stereotypes were definitely flying. Laced up in corsets and flowing skirts, Abigail Mitchell (Fiordiligi) and Caitlin Mathes (Dorabella) were heaving dramatic sighs at the end of Act I, falling completely for the shenanigans of Garza and Jose Rubio (Guglielmo) as they pretended to be Albanians dying from poison. While the girls clasped worried hands, the guys hammed it up, having a good laugh at how successful their joke was. Ruben Casas, singing the cynical Don Alfonso who starts the bet in the first place, joined in with a lugubrious bass and dark gaze. It’s a well-balanced cast, with all voices burnished yet crystal clear.
In the end, though, the boys get their comeuppance, the girls have their eyes opened to the reality of love and both couples get back together with a little forgiveness. It’s this, say the women of the cast, that makes “Cos” such a great opera to watch.
“You’re seeing the fun side of men, seeing the caricatures come out,” said Jenny Shotwell, a Tacoma Opera regular who’s singing the plotting, sharp-tongued maid Despina. “I’ve seen all those character types myself in my friends. Men are like that.”
“In the end, it’s like real life,” added Mathes, who compares “Cos” to coming-of-age stories such as “A Room With a View.” “The women can say, ‘I love you despite your flaws.’ ”
Setting the production in the Edwardian era helps modernize the gender attitudes, as well as lending elegance. Koran, who took over as the company’s director last year, is putting a personal stamp on his first production: As well as a mostly new cast and conductor (Portland’s Keith Clark), Koran is choosing a period he loves, full of Tiffany glass, peach kimonos, ruffles and curls.
“For ‘Cos,’ you need a bit of distance in time to make it work, but at the same time, the Edwardian period is a merging of modern mentality, with still a sense of elegance,” Koran explained.
The early 20th-century period helps the singers, too.
“It’s great. As soon as I put on this corset, I had a reaction – feeling bound, confined,” Mathes said. But, she added, “The truths of the opera are timeless.”
As is the music, of course – the other big reason why “Cos” is so popular.
“It’s hard to beat a Mozart Act I finale, of all the music that’s ever been written,” Mitchell said. “It’s so finely woven. I can sing arias in my basement anytime, but it’s such a privilege to scream at the top of my lungs with five other talented singers.”
Mathes’ favorite part, meanwhile, is the Act II finale. “Mozart does forgiveness music so well. It’s heartwrenching.”
“He probably had to ask forgiveness a lot from his own wife,” Shotwell said. “I’m sure he knew that feeling well.”
What: Tacoma Opera, directed by Noel Koran, will perform “Cos fan tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
When: 8 tonight; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma