In the beginning, God made man. That was the easy part. The next creation is usually more convoluted and often the topic of numerous heated debates in the battle of sexes. Was the female gender created as a divine afterthought or was God perhaps merely saving the best for last? Will people ever learn to deal with the complimentaries and the incongurences of both sexes? And most of all, is there really a "the one" for all the boys and girls out there or the "death-due-us-apart" clause is just a pretty matrimonial cliche which can be easily altered when a more attractive option comes along? On other words, fidelity, a stringent rule of the game or just a nice suggestion?
For three days this month, opera lovers in Taiwan are lured into an experiment on the power of love in "Cosi fan Tutte" by Wolfgang Mozart. As the orchestra sounds and the fat lady sings, the audience are swept into a opium den and a Chinese beauty spa where undying love is confessed...and betrayed...and then forgiven. Played by highly exaggerated characters, the satirical and comedic opera humorously invites the audience to solve the antiquated question of love.
In the first act, the cynical bachelor Don Alfonso makes a bet with Ferrando and Guglielmo that their fiancees, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiglio, cannot stay faithful to them. The young men confidently take on the best and thus the commencement of a cunning game of deceit and trickery.
With the help of the female counterpart of Don Alfonso, the shrewd maid of the ladies Despina, the girls encounter two exotic sweet-talking Albanians, whom are actually Ferrando and Guglielmo going incognito to test the trueness of their lover's affection.
The scam intensifies when the imposters successfully crumble the willpower of the sisters when the girls agree to tie the knots with the men. Although Fiordiligi, the more sensible one of the sister duo, is filled with angst in her quandary of love, but alas, she relegates to the advances of Ferrando.
The mix-up romance leaves the playful Guglielmo bemoaning the ingratitude of women yet outrages Ferrando when he finds out Dorabella has succumbed to the flattery of his friend.
As a mastermind of this amorous chaos and in attempt to advise the men to marry the women, Don Alfonso pronounces his famous words of "cosi fan tutte" which translates to "all women are alike".
The truth is finally uncovered during the disarrayed wedding breakfast when the fake Albanians finally reveal their true identity. The rest of the story is dotted with tear, embrace, and of course, a surprise ending...well, at least to the women who are either blurred with tears of sorrow or blinded with vision of love.
As a social dandy and unconformist of his time, Mozart often used his talents to make fun of the game of cat and mouse between the sexes. However, with almost no letters or writings from the time when Cosi fan Tutte was written and prepared, Mozart's goal for the opera remains a mystery.
Nevertheless, the Taiwanese audience can anticipate a merry and delightful performance by world-class trained musicians. Furthermore, instead of the usual elaborated Victorian petticoat dresses and men in white braided wigs, this production situates itself in an Chinese setting where the characters are dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, such as qi-pao.
The stage director, Stanley Lai, insisted to have an all-Taiwanese cast to be backed up by a Taiwanese orchestra.
In an interview, Lai revealed his confidence in Taiwan's ability to execute and deliver a blue-ribbon production that "will not disappoint Mozart himself."
Lai, who was also the director for Don Giovanni said directing a Mozart piece is an honor and a challenge that he welcomes wholeheartedly. Instead of viewing this opera as a backhanded commentary on the fickleness of women, he cajoles the audience to see it as a statement on the women's liberation from the shackles of a male-dominated society.
"This performance is about allowing a frank discussion on the differences and the similarities between men and women," Lai said.
"And if Mozart were alive today, I believe he would agree with me," he added.
Once again, the circle ends where it started and it is the responsibility, or rather the pleasure of the audience to answer this question for themselves: "Is fidelity just a nice word that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside but disposable when it becomes a nuisance, or is it a praiseworthy principle to be strictly upheld by all lovers everywhere?
In addition to the talent of Lai who is also a notable champion for Taiwanese female performing artists, the crew includes Chen Yen-ling as Fiordiligi, Chen Mei-ling as Dorabella, Hung Yi-te, as Ferrando, Yu-His Wu-bei as Guglielmo, Lo Ming-fang as Despina and Tsai Wen-Hao as Don Alfonso.
Cosi fan Tutte is playing in the National Concert Hall in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on Friday the 6th, 2:30 p.m. on Sunday the 8th, and the last performance is at 7:30 pm on Tuesday the 10th. Each performance is preceded with a lecture on the show 30 minutes prior to the curtain call. Tickets can be purchased online at www.artsticket.com.tw or via telephone at (02)3393-9888.