The audience is seated and the curtains are raised, but instead of the customary set with a smattering of actors and pit orchestra, there hangs a large screen. Miles away in Lincoln Center, James Levine, the illustrious conductor, raps his baton against a music stand in real-time.
The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD, a series of live, high-definition performances, broadcasted the Met’s production of “Così fan tutte,” on Saturday, May 3 at the Staller Center for the Arts.
Renée Fleming, a veteran American soprano opera singer, hosted the live event.
Levine, after going on hiatus for two years following surgery to correct a back problem, returned to the Met at the beginning of September 2013 to conduct “Così fan tutte.” Although seated in a wheelchair, Levine’s spirited conducting style has not diminished since the surgery.
Usually, when seated in the Met’s acoustically-sound recital hall, the conductor’s face is seldom seen. Opera-goers are accustoming to watching the silhouette of the conductor from behind.
But, the Live in HD series offers a perspective that cannot be experienced at the Met. Levine fills the screen, his arms swaying and his expressive face grinning a crooked, charming grin.
By alternating between shots of Levine and the pit orchestra during the overture, the broadcast illustrates his legendary intensity.
The overture’s dynamic swells create conversations between woodwind soloists and the full orchestra. Brimming with bravado, Ferrando and Guiglielmo, two young officers, strut around the stage. They proclaim that their fiances, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are as “virtuous as they are beautiful.”
Their mutual friend, Don Alfonso, a heavy-set, elderly man with hyperbolized, virile cynicism, convinces the two young men that, “it is a woman’s nature to be unfaithful.” Alfonso bets the two young men 50 gold coins each to prove their fiancees will be unfaithful. They accept.
Their fiancees, Fiordilgi and Dorabella, who are sisters, are seen lazing on the shore playfully describing their partners and envisioning their eventual marriages.
To begin his devious plan, Alfonso tells the women that their fiances have been called away to war by their regiment.
After a tearful goodbye, Ferrando and Guglielmo step aboard the ship leaving their partners devastated and alone.
Despina, the sisters’ maid, tells the women that they should simply find new lovers and leave their despair behind. Alfonso bribes Despina to assist him without revealing his plan.
Looking like two Arabic sheiks, replete with ornate costumes and facial hair, Ferrando and Guglielmo enter in disguise. The two “Albanians” express their love for Fiordilgi and Dorabella, each addressing the other’s fiance.
The women remain faithful to their fiances and are not swayed by the affection of the two “foreigners.”
After a series of flirtations and courtship gestures, the women finally give in to their Albanian suitors to the dismay of the men behind the disguises.
Although distraught, the two men are counseled by Alfonso who tells them that “all women are the same.” For this reason, Alfonso tells the men to embrace and marry Fiordilgi and Dorabella.
On the same shore where they watched their fiances sail to duty, the women are wed to their Albanian suitors.
Just as they sign the marriage license, Alfonso hollers that the regiment’s boat has returned back home bringing with it, to the women’s knowledge, Ferrando and Guglielmo.
The “foreigners” scurry offstage and Ferrando and Guglielmo step down from their ship in pristine, white uniforms.
The men pretend to uncover their fiancées’ unfaithful transgressions and accost them, but ultimately forgive them because, according to Alfonso, “all women are the same.”
By contemporary standards, this play is offensive to women.
“This doesn’t work for today’s modern woman,” Matthew Polenzani, who played Ferrando in the opera, said. “But this isn’t real, it’s just entertainment.”