The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment

By Mary Hunter | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
AND CONVENTION

COSÌ FAN TUTTE's pointed dialogue with La grotta di Trofonio suggests how its specific intertextual references shade into less palpable, if more deeply meaningful, references to and discussions of convention. Moreover, just as the opera's intertextual references are astonishingly various and convey multiple meanings on many levels, so the conventions it puts up for discussion also range widely and signify on various levels. These conventions range from those as specific as Despina's commedia dell'arte disguises and tricks or Fiordiligi's simile aria, to those as pervasive as the “pastoral mode” or “sentimentality”; and from those as formal as the strettas of both finales, to those as genre-oriented and ideological as the lieto fine. If Così's specific references provide the self-contained pleasures of a game, playable by connoisseurs and amateurs (Kenner and Liebhaber) alike, its equally virtuosic deployment of broader conventions may have offered the pleasures of familiarity to those paying slight attention, along with a more sophisticated delight to those who could appreciate the subtlety and selfconsciousness with which those conventions were both inspected and reconfigured.1

Although the conventions used and manipulated in this opera can be traced to a wide variety of origins, it is Così's treatment of the habits of opera buffa that most compellingly signals its deepest meanings. Some generic habits seem to have been chosen to illustrate a social theme of the work—Despina's relation to her superiors is such an example. Some moments announce their conventionality and make a point about the characters by highlighting their choice of prepackaged utterance: Don Alfonso's “Vorrei dir” and the sisters' first arias are three cases in point. Other conventions, like the household setting and the lieto fine, are quietly skewed relative to the majority of the repertory; this locates Così rather precisely in its immediate context and raises questions about the nature and value of originality. And finally, one aspect of this opera not normally thought of as “conventional”—namely, its extraordinary moments of sensuous beauty— can, in the context of this repertory, be seen to rest on a convention—a convention, moreover, that illuminates the knife-edge sensibility of the work.

____________________
1
See Brown, “Beaumarchais, Paisiello and the Genesis of Così fan tutte,” in Sadie, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) p. 329, on connoisseurship in Così.

-273-

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