Stan Lai, Taiwan's foremost drama director, is making another attempt to bring the local audience closer to Western opera. Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte (Women Are All the Same)," known to send Italian-speaking spectators rolling in the aisle with laughter because of the suggestive and even risque language matched by accompanying music, is Lai's latest project.
Lai confessed to being overwhelmed by Mozart's beautiful music. The great Austrian composer, whose 250th birth anniversary will be celebrated worldwide in 2006, wrote "Cosi Fan Tutte" when he was at the peak of his creative ability.
After Chien Wen-pin of the National Symphony Orchestra convinced Lai to direct "Cosi Fan Tutte," following the success of the semi-staged production of "Don Giovanni," Lai gave the new project some thought, deciding finally to reset the story in the decadent Shanghai of the 1920s.
"Love is the theme of this opera," declared Lai. "Two sisters, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will talk about love while indulging themselves in a spa. The question is: Will the vocalists still be able to sing while sprawled in a spa? We will see. As for the men, they will debate about the fidelity of their fiancees while gambling in an opium den."
The cast of singers will be similar to that of "Don Giovanni." Baritone Bai Yu-hsi, tenor Hung Yi-te as well as sopranos Chen Yen-ling, Chen Mei-ling and Lo Ming-fang are collaborating once more with Lai. Lai will have the women wearing "chi paos" or cheongsams and men sporting "chang paos" while singing in Italian. The women's Chinese dresses, however, are stylized and minus the thigh-high slits. Their hairstyles will be inspired by old Shanghai though. The audience will be able to rely on the Chinese subtitles to follow the scenario of "Cosi Fan Tutte."
As the story goes, two officers - Ferrando and Guglielmo - accept the wager of nobleman Don Alfonso, who bets that their fiancees are not likely to stay faithful when exposed to temptations. The officers are urged to disguise themselves as Albanians and then woo each other's fiancees. Sure enough, the sisters yield to the romantic overtures, agreeing to marry their "suitors."
As the National Symphony Orchestra will be limited in size to 40 musicians, Lai will have a bigger space to stage the opera at the National Concert Hall. There will be a chorus with 20 singers.
"Let's offer a total opera experience despite the limitations of the stage," said Lai. "The National Concert Hall has the advantage of acoustics. But it is not designed for theater productions. So the challenge to mount an opera will still be there."
Lai remarked: "A semi-staged opera is not what we want. To call it semi-staged due to the cost-cutting involved is to sound apologetic."
The stage set will be art deco in style, revealed Lai. The stage itself will be high. A wall will hide the orchestra. Four movable screens will be used. Eight dancers will move the props around.
Chien is convinced that Lai will delight the Taipei audience with his handling of the opera said to be filled with sexual innuendoes.
In June 2006, Lai will direct Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro." Mozart's three operas - "Don Giovanni," "Cosi Fan Tutte" and "Le Nozze di Figaro" - will eventually be staged as touring productions outside Taipei.
"Cosi Fan Tutte" with the National Symphony Orchestra will kick off the 250th anniversary W.A. Mozart Fantasy at 7:30 p.m. on January 6. More performances are lined up at 2:30 p.m. on January 8 and at 7:30 p.m. on January 10.