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

By Mary Hunter | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
IN CONVERSATION

I BEGAN THIS BOOK with a partial re-creation of the operatic “conversation” in which Le nozze di Figaro participated: a conversation involving other works, both operatic and literary, other local composers and librettists, the continuing relationship between the performers and the audience, and the broader cultural context. Così fan tutte, not surprisingly, also participated in this kind of conversation—using Figaro itself (and its web of references) among its interlocutors, as Bruce Alan Brown has recently shown.1 Like Figaro, Così plays on continuities in the Burgtheater's performance personnel, it connects in a variety of ways to other works in the repertory, and it treats themes in common currency in the repertory. However, the balance of elements in Così's conversation with its contexts is rather different from Figaro's. Unlike that opera, for example, Così is not based on a single model and is not an explicit narrative sequel to another, as Figaro is to Il barbiere di Siviglia; thus one of the ready-made, or most obvious elements in an operatic conversation is absent. Despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of a single source or model—a lack unusual among Da Ponte's libretti—Così is more pervasively and virtuosically intertextual than Figaro.2 Indeed, Bruce Alan Brown describes it as the result of a “promiscuous miscegenation” of sources, from contemporary operas to ancient myths: a mixture which, given the “conversational” context of this repertory, was surely part of the pleasure of the work for the audience.3 Another way in which Così's relation to its interlocutors differs from Figaro's is that while the generic and repertorial conversation invoked by the earlier work is in some ways incidental to its transhistorical meanings, Così's “conversations” with its contexts, and especially with the immediate context of the

____________________
1
Bruce Alan Brown, “Beaumarchais, Paisiello and the Genesis of Così,” in Sadie, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) pp. 312–38.
2
Daniel Heartz has argued, in “Citation, Reference and Recall in Così fan tutte” (Mozart's Operas [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990] pp. 229–53), that not only does this opera invoke works by other librettists and composers (and Heartz specifically mentions Goldoni's Le pescatrici in this connection) but it is also replete with cross-references within itself, and to Mozart's earlier works, including and especially Idomeneo. Bruce Alan Brown has also commented on Mozart's self-borrowings in Brown, Così, pp. 3–6, and in “Beaumarchais, Paisiello and the Genesis of Così,” in Sadie, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, pp. 312–38.
3
Brown, Così, p. 14.

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