Mozart Goes Hollywood in Adaptation Of His Comic Opera 'Cosi Fan Tutte'
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Nick Olcott thinks Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" is the perfect opera. "It's perfectly constructed, perfectly balanced," says the director-writer. "Just clear and clean and very funny."
Even so, Olcott dared to tinker with perfection in his 2003 English-language adaptation of the comic opera, "Cosi Fan Tutte Goes Hollywood." La-La Land in 1929 is the setting for his re-imagining of librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte's tale of women tricked into betraying their fiances. The In Series production will run at Source Sept. 12-26, in partial rep with the company's Jazz Age piece "From U Street to the Cotton Club."
Mozart's opera caused a scandal in its day, Olcott says, and is often perceived as misogynistic for its portrayal of women as innately fickle. "I think of it much more in the way Mozart took it, which is women can't be trusted because they're human, and no humans can be trusted," he says.
"In most of his operas, Mozart is preaching the gospel of forgiveness," Olcott continues. "Even someone like the Count in '[The Marriage of] Figaro,' who is a nasty guy -- I mean he's cheating on his wife and harassing the servants -- but even he is perfectable if he admits his errors and is forgiven them."
In Series Artistic Director Carla Hbner describes Olcott's version of "Cosi" -- one of seven adaptations she has commissioned of Mozart's late masterpieces -- as a "pocket opera." Her company has always straddled categories and performed in small spaces on a shoestring budget.
"You can do opera in a small space, with few resources, because the combination of the music and the story can and should have enough of an immediate impact that you don't need the big trappings," she explains. As for doing opera in the language your audience speaks rather than the tongue it was written in, that may not be ideal, but it has its benefits, Hbner says. "You adapt to your circumstances, and sometimes you discover something special."
Olcott had no misgivings about translating and adapting "Cosi" to his Hollywood vision. "I'm a great believer in trying to demystify opera . . . to understand it's just another form of musical comedy."