Sellars is dishonest to Mozart in his televised opera

February 15, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

PETER SELLARS' new brainstorm, his version of Mozart's opera "Cosi Fan Tuti," is fine if you like wonderful Mozart music and good singing in a Westchester, N.Y., diner -- and Sellars' special delight in degrading women by walking one around in a bra, having the men paw them all over and making them grovel on the floor. Otherwise, it's not so fine.

The Sellars version, to be seen at 10 p.m. Friday on channels 22 and 67, simulcast on WBJC (91.5 FM), is women-demeaning, juvenile and dishonest to Mozart. Mozart intended this to be a comedy of manners. Instead Sellars makes it an unfunny dark drama whose weird details distract from the rich music.

Little is terribly askew with the modern setting, it's just quite showy. The diner is cute-green vinyl booths and aluminum siding. The modern era is gimmicky -- a message comes across the screen announcing "The President has today decided to invade Iraq." Granted, Mozart's opera, the title meaning "Women are like that," has always bothered some because the fickle and unfaithful women often seem to come off worse than the silly pretentious men.

But director Sellars delights in the one-sidedness even more, starting with his breathless on-screen "favorite" translation, "Women are bathmats." The main male lover, Guglielmo, sung by James Maddalena, goes into the Vienna studio audience where it was shot and uses female patrons as props to mock all women. The sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, sung by Susan Larson and Janice Felty, despise themselves more than the men dislike themselves.

And so on. If, by chance, Sellars wanted to mock the mocking of women, he backfired. The second and final act where the two sisters are so vulnerable (and the men idiotic) is a tense mess. The station is correct in starting the production one hour later than usual.

Musically, the 3 1/2 -hour Great Performances production is on the mark, and the musicians honor the lovely, light Mozart melodies. Craig Smith conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

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