La Scuola Degli Amanti wows audiences
La Scuola Degli Amanti, the Carnegie Mellon School Of Music’s latest production, is best described by the literal translation of its name — “The School of Love and Infidelity.” La Scuola is built around three operas — Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro. All three, collaborations between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, are legendary works. Scored by Mozart at the height of his genius, all three are amongst the most brutally honest, dark, and hauntingly beautiful expressions of what it means to be in and out of love. La Scuola takes these classics and does something very brave, melding them into a single production set across multiple timelines.
In La Scuola, scenes from Cosi fan tutte are set in the modern era, from Don Giovanni are set in the roaring ‘20s, and from Le nozze di Figaro are in the original 18th century setting. As such, La Scuola has a very interesting narrative structure. Scenes from each timeline are interspersed with others, making for a heady contrast for the audience. Nevertheless there are unifying ideas to the entire production. As a whole, La Scuola explores the roles that men and women play in relationships; it makes the argument that certain themes — like love and fidelity — are timeless concepts.
Successfully reinterpreting not one or two, but three classics is a herculean task to say the least. Doing it over three different eras, and interspersing the scenes with each other is more difficult still. And though this brave structure makes for a revolutionary production in theory, some of it doesn’t come off perfectly. Some of the scenes seem out of place. Some of the lines seem incredibly dated in a modern context. In Cosi fan tutte, for example, women are represented as weak-willed and superficial. Such depictions might have been the norm in 18th century Vienna; put in a modern setting, however, this misogyny seems incoherent. This, and other such instances make La Scuola’s themes seem far from timeless, and end up distracting from the productions underlying message.
Ideation aside, the execution of La Scuola is flawless. If you haven’t seen many performances from the School of Music, prepare to be blown away. From the singing to the arrangements, Mozart is unbelievably layered and intricate, with abrupt key changes, and strange time signatures. The cast and orchestra make it all look downright easy. Not to mention, the set and costume design are downright spectacular. A simple and minimalist set successfully morphs from a small private chamber to a large party space to an enchanted snowy forest. The costumes are used to convey era and mood. Modern day Cosi fan tutte has characters that dress in loud and garish contemporary attire. 1920s Don Giovanni has characters that represent the gentry of that era. 18th century Nozze has characters that represent 18th Century aristocracy.
Ultimately, La Scuola is a very well-staged piece — there isn’t a wrong glance, flat note, or an off-time beat. The ideas that form its foundation are brave and forward-thinking. That said, most of La Scuola’s greatest flourishes are far too subtle and opaque to someone not well versed in 18th century Viennese Opera Buffa. If you happen to be an avid connoisseur of Mozart, you will be highly impressed by an interesting and flawlessly executed reinterpretation of his greatest work. If La Scuola happens to be your first or second opera, you’ll probably walk out at the end more than just a little confused.