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Opera and the Med

By Alix Norman

If there’s anything more refined than opera by the Mediterranean, I haven’t yet discovered it. It’s the 16th year of the renowned Pafos Aphrodite Festival and there’s nothing quite like it – the atmosphere, the people and, most of all, the opera. This year sees one of the most popular of Mozart’s works performed at the Medieval Castle in Paphos: the renowned Cosi Fan Tutte. Presented by the organisation Opera Futura of Verona, with the participation of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, the work is a masterpiece of the Italian opera buffa genre in two acts.

With the libretto written by Lorenzi Da Ponte, the opera premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790. But the rather bold subject matter (hint: the title is often translated as ‘So Do All Women’) ensured that, even though the premier was a huge success, the work itself was rarely performed in the ensuing years – despite the theme of ‘fiancée swapping’ dating back to such classics as Boccaccio’s Decameron and Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, the rather strait-laced audiences of the time were repeatedly treated to a vastly watered down version of the original tale of the exchange of lovers.

These days, however, we’re slightly more open-minded, and the enchanting themes of unfaithfulness, deception and emotional outpourings are considered more palatable, warranting Cosi a place on the International Operabase as the 14th most frequently performed opera in the world.

Set in the Naples of the 18th century, the plot follows the passions of four star-crossed lovers, with many a merry twist and turn to delight the audience. It opens with two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, discussing the true faithfulness of their respective fiancées, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi (it helps if you remember that the two whose names begin with ‘F’ are not paired off). But, the story is immediately thrown into disarray – what would an opera be without a devious plot twist or two? – when a cynical old man, Don Alfonso, suggests a nefarious bet: give him a day, he says, and he can prove to the officers that their fiancées – like all women – are fickle.

Thus begins a complicated plan: the officers pretend they have to depart for war, but return almost immediately disguised (true opera-lovers being able to suspend disbelief that the girls should not know the voices of their betrothed) as a couple of exquisitely dressed Albanians, no less! With the help of Despina, the maid, Don Alfonso then attempts to convince the ladies – who are suitably distraught at the loss of their lovers – to pair off with the ‘Albanians’, albeit the wrong one (thus Ferrando will now be wooing Fiordiligi, while Guglielmo turns his attentions to Dorabella).

The two sisters, however, reject all advances, remaining true to their original fiancées. And wouldn’t it be a triumph for the fairer sex if that were all there was to the story? Alas, this is opera, and slowly but surely, Alfonso and Despina – through any number of outlandish devices; pretended poisoning for a start – prevail on the girls to begin a light flirtation with the wrong opposite number. But, never fear, the moral of the story is forgiveness – bit of a plot spoiler there – and, after many an impassioned aria, things do work out for the best for all concerned.

Suspend your incredulity, and Cosi is one of the finest of masterpieces: the perfect chance to pander to your sophisticated side. Granted, the plot may not be the most elegantly crafted of tales, but that doesn’t mean your evening of opera by the Med can’t be an exercise in quiet cultural taste, an opportunity to break out your fanciest frock (or sharpest suit) and don the pearls. I, for one, love the refinement of the occasion. And So, one imagines, Do All Women.

The 16thPafos Aphrodite Festival presents Mozart’s opera, Cosi Fan Tutte
At the Medieval Castle on Septemeber 5, 6 and 7. For online ticket purchases visit the Pafos Aphrodite Festival Cyprus website, www.pafc.com.cy, contact the Festival offices on 26 822218 or email [email protected] Tickets range in price from €25 to €70. Subtitle translation will be available in Greek and English during the performances.

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