Sunday, November 22, 2009

Symmetry and comedy

We went last night to Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Oberlin! What a great opera! And what a great job these students did!

Here's one of the many wonderful things. To figure this out, I have to do a little of the plot. Two sisters are in love with a couple of guys. They (the guys) are persuaded by a slightly nasty friend, Don Alfonso, to test their lovers' fidelity by leaving and then coming back in disguise as Albanians to court the girls. One guy succeeds, and we watch him courting and the girl responds, pretty joyfully. Then, obviously, we have second guy.

Classical music is so formally constructed that of course what we expect is another scene where guy #2 courts girl #2 and succeeds. It doesn't happen that way: he pleads, and she not only resists, she completely changes the kind of opera we are watching. She (and, yes, she does have a name: Fiordiligi) sings an aria that should be in a tragic/heroic opera, full of immense leaps of the voice, intense phrases, and self-recrimination that doesn't belong in comedy. This is a woman, and an opera, for which decisions have consequences.

Here's a YouTube video of Liah Persson singing the aria. 

And of course that's completely averse to comedy, where there are (almost) no consequences. The opera ends that way: the guys in disguise have won over the girls. Everyone has pretty much been a jerk, testing their lovers (no one should do that!), falling for some clowns that appear unannounced and unnamed (not a good idea)...  But at the end the music just takes over. The opera's ending, so of course we need to resolve things. There's really no time to make the resolution come out of their characters, or histories, so it's just imposed.

Why not? A memo to myself (who tends to believe in symmetry and consequences): Does everything  have to work predictably?