Cosi fan Tutte at the Arts Centre Melbourne
Mozart’s opera about testing fidelity is an intriguing story set to music of impossible beauty. Two men disguise themselves as Albanians and attempt to seduce each other’s lover in an elaborate ruse to win a bet, at the urging of the cynical old philosopher Don Alfonso.
Absurd? Yes, but Mozart’s luminous music takes the absurd and makes it sublime.
Sasha spoke with performer Samuel Dundas about his role in the romantic comedy and why this opera has become so popular. Read the full interview below:
Così fan Tutte is a romantic comedy and has many familiar and accessible elements of the genre: there’s homosocial rivalry, mistaken identities and a happy ending. Could you tell us a bit about your role as Guglielmo? Is there a popular contemporary character you would most liken him too?
Guglielmo is a young man of decency and naivety who foolishly accepts a bet regarding the constancy of his partner. He is then dragged through an ever-deepening chaos and conflict as he is held to ransom by his “soldier’s honour” that leads to some poor decisions that affect all those around him. Don Draper would be a good modern example.
What moments in the performance and text would you advise a new Opera audience member to keep an eye out for? Are there any messages, hidden underneath the humour, that you hope they take away from the performance?
I think part of the brilliance of the work, but even more so in this McVicar production, is that the humour is created through realism and truth, rather than gags. The circumstance is obviously quite unrealistic or unusual, but the humour comes from the circumstantial chaos than ensues from the bet between the boys. I think the show calls into question the naivety of youth and whilst the premise can seem quite misogynistic, Don Alfonso is trying to say that the boys are foolish to believe that anyone isn’t capable of fidelity. Not that everyone will cheat, but that everyone is at least capable of it.
Although now one of the most performed operas in the world, Così fan tutte wasn’t popular with Mozart’s contemporaries, who thought it was an unusual choice of story for the composer. What do you think are the lasting elements and effects of this Opera in its music and story? Why do you think it rose in popularity after World War II?
I think the power of this opera is its music. The score is vocally and harmonically complete and whilst difficult for the singers, when performed with accuracy and dramatic intention, is musical poetry. As to its popularity, I think one could argue the story lacked depth in comparison to his other works like Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute.
What kind of musical preparation do you do for Opera? How has it differed for Così fan tutte?
General preparation for a role will start about six months out, depending on the size of a role. I find learning roles slowly and over time (preparing and then leaving it to simmer) is what gets them in my head. Singing practice is an almost daily requirement and singing a role in is also very important and happens in the weeks leading up to the first days of rehearsal and then throughout the rehearsal process.
Who are your inspirations? What do you aspire to achieve in your body of work, and beyond Opera?
I’m inspired by people who pursue excellence in their craft, not only in music and opera, but in anything they choose to pursue. Generationally, I think we have become armchair experts in multiple disciplines, rather than finding expertise in one or two pursuits. I certainly admire and look up to my fellow Australian colleagues and artists, as well singers out on the world stage. I also moonlight in the wine industry down in Tasmania which has allowed me to decompress between gigs and allows me to regain my focus for the next project.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Damiano Michelletto’s Cavelleria Rusticana/Pagliacci production performed by OA last year.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Dream role in any show to perform?
Plays or musicals?
All depends on what it is….
Who is your industry inspiration?
Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Jonas Kaufman
What’s next for you after this show?
Victorian Opera’s A Little Night Music
Cosi fan Tutte opens at Arts Centre Melbourne on May 21 2019. You can get your tickets here.