Così fan tutte: Full of beauty and surprises

UM Opera Theater stages Mozart’s shimmering opera April 14-15

On Stage

UM Opera Theater takes to the Dennison Theater stage in Missoula April 14-15 with Così fan tutte, Mozart’s lighthearted romantic romp.

Ally Randolph as Fiordiligi and Cheyenne Brown as Dorabella portray two easily duped sisters in Mozart's Così fan tutte.
Ally Randolph and Cheyenne Brown portray two charming but easily duped sisters in Mozart’s comedy, Così fan tutte.Photo © UM Opera Theater

“Our fiercely talented singers and orchestra have prepared a beautiful comic romance, full of glorious music and shenanigans!” says University of Montana Music Professor Anne Basinski, director of UM Opera Theater.

Translated as “Thus Do They All” or “The School for Lovers,” the opera (sung in English) imagines two young couples each absolutely certain nothing can break them apart. Unbeknownst to the women, their beaus agree to a test of their paramours’ fidelity. Flirting happens, choices are made, and the lovers are surprised, heartbroken, confused and, even, delighted!

“This opera is so full of beauty and surprises,” says Basinski. She describes Mozart’s music as “shimmering,” capable of making “every moment alive and fully expressive.” The libretto was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, the composer’s frequent collaborator.

The story and music traverse a range of emotions common in new love, from silly to poignant. “The characters definitely act in ways that are risky and unwise – they learn that some of their strongly held ideas are just wrong,” says Basinski. Along the way, all four “gain some wisdom and find unexpected happiness.”

Basinski notes that the opera requires elegance, finesse and assurance and for that reason is seldom performed by undergraduates. The UM cast rises to the challenge: “Our young singers are so beautiful to hear and see.”

Playing the roles of the four suitors are Ally Randolph as Fiordiligi, Cheyenne Brown as her sister, Dorabella, Jacob Logan as Guglielmo and Leasi Mana as Ferrando.  Chauncey Allison is cynic Don Alfonso, a 1930s film studio boss, and Anela Thomas is Despina, the sisters’ maid. All are undergraduates (one just finished last December) and are pursuing degrees in music education and performance.

“These young folks are so amazingly accomplished, and as they move on I can’t wait to see how they contribute to the world of music and art.”

Basinski also lauds the trios, quartets and sextets as “the body and soul of the opera,” requiring students to collaborate and partner at the highest level to meet the work’s technical demands.

The UM Symphony Orchestra performs Mozart’s score, making this concert one of the largest collaborations for the School of Music, only undertaken every other year. “It’s a challenge to bring all these busy folks together, but so worth it,” she says.

Basinski is confident the audience will feel the same way, even those who aren’t fans of recorded opera. “Come hear it in person! See how funny and human and sweet it is – hear these special voices up close and in person,” she advises. “It makes a big difference!”

Così fan tutte is performed in English instead of Italian to make the plot easier to follow.

Opera with “So. Much. Heart.”

Così fan tutte “is frankly sexist,” admits Basinski, as the male leads speculate about women’s faithfulness and virtue, with never a word about their own. However, the maid, Despina, offers “a wonderfully modern voice” as she encourages the sisters to take agency and own their own wishes and desires. “I consider that pretty good representation for 1790!”

Basinski also notes that there’s a tendency toward shelving older operas and plays with dated storylines, especially if sexist behaviors are seemingly rewarded. “I understand the issues at hand, and we can view them with a critical eye – but personally I’m not willing to throw away Mozart and Shakespeare because of them,” she says.

She also notes that the disguises donned by the male leads are an unlikely scenario. The men pretend to leave, called off to military service, and return in disguises to woo the others’ fiancée as part of a wager on the faithfulness of their beloveds.

“It is, indeed, a bit silly to imagine that a girl wouldn’t recognize her sister’s fiancé simply because he’s dressed up. But, I actually think it’s a metaphor,” says Basinski. The plot device reflects the truth that, even in our closest relationships, “we can be blind to what’s right in front of us.”

Ultimately, she hopes the audience will be as captivated with the journey of these young couples as they are with the luscious music.

“In their vigorous very young adulthood, they feel so smart, so strong, so sure of themselves,” until it all crumbles. In the end, though, “they make discoveries and come to a better conclusion after all,” in this comic opera with “So. Much. Heart.”

Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 14-15 in the UM Dennison Theater. Tickets are available online, by calling 406-243-4051 or at the door, all with the pick-what-you-pay option ranging from $5-$50.