Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Archive for November 2011

In a different context..

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Incorporated into the WNO/Kennedy Center/DC Public School “Creating Opera” program, is a presentation of an operatic work, out of the WNO season, which is reduced to a one hour, kid friendly, bite size performance.

This year’s presentation is Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte –an operatic jewel, refracting a dissection of characters; a comedy, and a six hander: 2 sisters, their 2 lovers, a rumpled philosopher, and a maid.

In brief: the philosopher baits the 2 lovers to test the fidelity of their girlfriends; the men, staunch in their belief in the steadfast character of their loves, agree to impersonate a pair of foreigners, and test the other’s amour..

The first assault fails; the ladies remain faithful –but with the cunning connivance of the maid, who has tossed in her lot with the philosopher, the stakes are raised, and the game gets heated; one lady falls to persistence, going so far as to hand over a locket (given to her by her lover), to be used as goad by her new beau, behind her back, in the face of her old one!  The second sister is then assailed with passion, fueled by a deep furnace of vengeance, to which she succumbs.

In the end, all is revealed, and the wisdom of the age is collected in the refrain: cosi fan tutte..

Loosely translated to mean, ‘they’re like that’, but taken in context and application, comes closer to –“women are like that” –fickle, ‘flatterable’, and fawning, failing.. but loveable, if they are accepted as fragile and not tested.

..I did mention that this was a comedy, didn’t I? Yes; a comedy of 18th century manners, humor and social comment, that continues to vex easy distaste by cutting close to the bone of sexual politics, and political incorrectness. An uneasy romp under the yoke of Mozart’s mastery, driving our ears to savor a musical landscape of searing and volatile emotional complexities, that can wring and anger our heart..

At first I wondered how best to offer this meal to 5th graders, and wondered further how they would take it..

I tried not to shade my synopsis of the basic elements of the story with my own 21st century lens; I did put the bare bones forward..

And in response-..in one class, the 5th graders rounded up the story as one on issues of friendship; they then created a list of the attributes of a ‘good friend’ –  loyalty; trustworthiness; caring; honesty – which instantly begged the question if these were attributes the men in “Cosi” exampled; there was a resounding, emphatic, and very disapproving choral cry of “no”!

To a person, these students felt that the actions of the Philosopher, who instigated this test –which they argued was more of a “bet” than “experiment”- was probably someone who had had “his heartbroken”, which left him “angry with love”, and ready to sour anything that even looked like happiness!

In another class of 5th graders, they argued the point that the philosopher, though “deceitful”, was not entirely to blame for the carnage of what transpired thereafter; they argued that the women had some responsibility, but that it was the men who were most at fault, as it was the men who could have turned their back on “bad friendship” and the suggestions of the philosopher. And they went further, totting up a list of attributes, that the philosopher exhibited that should have given fair warning to the men that he was a bad influence, and was working with “bad judgment”.

Even more interesting was the discussion that broke out in this class when it came to speaking about the maid’s involvement; half the class at first lumped this girl with deceitful complicity –until the other half, put her “social position” into context, pointing out that she was a “maid to the women”, and probably suffered under their general selfishness, and daily orders. They recognized that the maid might look at this alliance, with the philosopher, as “opportunity” to pay back her mistresses with some “bad behavior” of her own. Once that point had been made, the class, as a whole, stepped back from blaming the maid for anything, except taking advantage of the opportunity.

In the end, it all, always, came back to the men..

And that’s when the conversation really grabbed hold, and lead to the opportunity of speaking about “free will”, and the choices we make in life.. that elicited current examples of “peer pressure”, and conversation on the daily hurdles students face to be true to their own convictions..

.. in a different context, it seems that the art form is reasserting its universality; Kettle has given their chip the ‘uptick’ of being better than the rest, and not just a potato chip, through a new series of commercials, without a spoken word of dialogue:

 

.. oddly enough I find myself relieved by all this; not only is an opera written in 1790 engaging 5th grade students in 2011, proving itself as relevant and opportune with fodder for conversation, comment and unease, as it had originally.. but the art form has again merged with  contemporary humor, offering its unique convention for broad entertainment and connection..

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Written by tomminteroffthestoop

November 6, 2011 at 2:11 PM