Last Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of watching the Metropolitan Opera's really fine production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, via MetHD at our local multiplex. This is an opera I have seen live at the Met (but not for many years) and listened to on CD and radio simulcast, and in bits and pieces on YouTube quite a lot over the years.
This time it was different. Or I was different.
The title of the opera translates to "All women are like that." And yes, it is a pretty annoyingly sexist title, and the premise of the opera is also pretty annoying. Because the "that" referred to is unfaithful. Fickle. And possibly: not so very bright.
As is always the case with Mozart, though, the music is transcendently beautiful.
But as one of the three Mozart operas with libretti by Lorenzo DaPonte (the other two being The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, and they both have more layers and more stuff going on), this one always disappointed me. Because, you know, I was a woman and a feminist and I was going to BE SOMEONE. Right?
Well, I am still a woman and a feminist. The "someone" part of that equation is open to debate, but in my humble opinion trending negative. (I'm pretty sure I'm going to get verbally bopped on the head for the last half of this paragraph.)
But here's what's funny: as I grow older, as I experience more of the lovely pleasures and really horrible challenges life can and often does throw one's way, I become less and less sure. Of myself, of others, of everything.
I mean, who the hell knows??
So I went to the multiplex yesterday, with Lars and Saskia and my parents, thinking: I will love the music and the voices and, no doubt, the acting (opera singers today are pretty fine actors, too), and the sets and the costumes, but I will not like this story all that much. :(
But I found myself sitting there just being open. This new openness in me possibly grows out of aging, and perhaps a waning of my old eagerness to fight what seemed wrong. Out of being just plain tired of struggle and strife.
You might think I am talking about apathy, that I just don't care about things anymore, but that's not it. I think it is really a species of mindfulness. Willingness to be open and quiet and not so judgmental, to really look at what's coming my way.
When I looked and listened last Saturday I realized I knew very little about this opera that I thought I knew everything about. This does not mean I got it TOTALLY wrong and in fact it's a subversive feminist piece.
But it has some things to say, if we allow ourselves to hear them. I'm not sure 18th-century or 19th-century audiences did. Maybe not opera-goers of the 20th century, either. Maybe not many people today, even.
But when Dorabella tries to convince her sister Fiordiligi that they should accept the proposals of their "Albanian" suitors while their fiancés are presumably out at sea fighting some battle or other, and she says, "Well, something is a whole lot better than nothing" -- rather like "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" -- it got me thinking about the vulnerability of women.
Not just back then, either. I know women who've agreed (or chosen) to stay home and raise their kids while supporting their husbands in their careers -- or have done so out of necessity driven by illness or disability (hell-o!) -- only to be thrown overboard when a newer, less TIRED model came along.** And it is not so easy to swim to shore when you've spent the last ten or fifteen or twenty-five years out of the work force. You might very well have kick-ass project management skills -- you might even have several graduate degrees under your belt and be an honorary physician, therapist, and accountant -- but no employer, and not that many other folks who haven't walked in your shoes, will embrace the skills you developed at an unpaid job as "real" skills.
Another thing I saw this time was that the one character in the whole story who shows any real depth of feeling, any kind of inner struggle and genuine emotional pull, is Fiordiligi.
The two guys, Ferrando and Guglielmo -- suitors and fake suitors of the sisters (it's a long, complicated story which you will not get from me now because it's EARLY and I am tired) -- are simply a couple of immature and confused and egocentric young men. The other guy, Don Alfonso, is older and more worldly, but no better. The only potentially likable characters in Cosi, to me, at least, are the female ones. I like the scheming maid, Despina, because she IS a schemer, and cheerfully mercenary to boot. Good for her!
And the sisters? The women who supposedly exemplify female treachery? They are two young women simply trying to keep their heads above the rising waters.
So, this time around, sitting there open and quiet and just being in the joy that is the music of Mozart, I saw and heard something new. We are ALL "like that." Confused, at times unfaithful. Vulnerable and insecure. Schemers in love and in money. Trying to LIVE, in whatever ways we can.
I "got" these characters. I never really did before.
I believe this is the most important lesson in Cosi Fan Tutte, even though I suspect its authors and generations of its audiences took (and still take) its message to be: "Women. Ya can't live with 'em, and ya can't live without 'em."
Which could sometimes be true. Sometimes we suck. So do men, So does my dog. So does that mountain of laundry that grows like a fungus in my basement. SO WHAT? As long as we don't inflict wounds too deep on others or ourselves, it's no big deal in the scheme of things.
(I am not including the acts of extraordinary cruelty inflicted by people on other people or animals, or on the environment, every single day. Those things are definitely not okay.)
So here's the punch line, Ladies and Gents: I AM SO NOT WHO I ONCE THOUGHT I WAS. And life is not anything like what I assumed it would be.
I think life and I both might be better than that, even with our many shortcomings and failures.
I have lost an inconceivable number of people and things. I have a child who no longer lives in my home, in spite of my impossibly huge love and admiration for him. That still shakes me when I allow myself to think about it too deeply...I have not yet learned how to fully understand that reality.
I have another child who may very well play Fiordiligi one day, if not at the Met then at some other venue, large or small.
And I have a husband who was a son of the Arch Enemy, an impossible partner for me -- and yet the only man in whose company I can imagine growing old, and in whose embrace I feel joyful, beloved, and safe.
Who the fuck knew??? Jeepers. Life is just like that, I guess.
**This is not me. I don't expect I'll ever be thrown overboard for a newer model. But the other stuff is my stuff, and I am in good company.