Uneasy in Love: Mozart's 'Così fan tutte'

Cosí fan tutteRemember what it was like to be a teenager in love? How it seemed like it could never possibly end? How you and your "steady" were so right together that you couldn't even imagine being apart?

Now think back to what it was like when the object of that love, your perfect soulmate, threw you over for someone else. Painful, right? Almost too painful to bear -- or at least that's how it seemed at the time.

When we get older, it's easy to look back on our lovesick youth with amusement. We wonder at how losing that long-ago boyfriend or girlfriend could have seemed so important, and how the loss could have been so devastating. But we still remember how it felt, and with age and experience we realize that when grown-up relationships break down, the pain can be even worse. Maybe that's why Mozart's outwardly comic masterpiece, Così fan tutte, also presents as a cautionary tale -- leaving us holding on to our hearts, uncertain where the romantic winds might blow.

Over time, the mixed emotions Così evokes have led to criticism of the opera. The problem, some contend, is that sentiments the libretto states routinely are heard in music so deeply stirring that the words and the score seem at odds with each other -- and perhaps that's true enough.

Still, that emotional disparity may be exactly what Mozart had in mind, as a way of making sure this unlikely story hits its mark. Deep down, Così fan tutte provides a sharp reminder of how often the true depth of our feelings is sadly contradicted by clumsy statements and predictable actions. Mozart's opera also does something even more profound: It bluntly reminds us that our most cherished relationships can often be fragile and tenuous, and in doing so it shines a harsh light on the barest of our vulnerabilities.

On this edition of World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us Mozart's Cosi in a production from La Scala, in Milan. The stars are Maria Bengtsson, Katija Dragojevic, Adam Plachetka and Rollando Villazon, as the two couples whose tenuous relationships can often leave real life romantics feeling a little queasy. The production is led by La Scala's music director, Daniel Barenboim.