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Germany, 1990 (MIFF 1999, Mozart: Mad & Marvellous)

Director: Peter Sellars

In 1990 stage director Peter Sellars shocked the opera world by staging three Mozart operas in typically contemporary American settings. The three operas toured worldwide and were filmed in 1991, the Bicentenary year of Mozart's death. Of them, Cosi fan Tutte stands out as a particularly astounding work—set in a small-town diner called Despinas. Sellars deliberately unmasks his characters, dressing them in contemporary street-wear. They are armed with attitudes and personae that at first seem modern, but are ultimately read as transcending social circumstance.

A comic opera, Cosi fan Tutte is in many ways a satirical view of romantic love and infidelity. Two young men, Fernando and Guglielmo, argue with the older and more sceptical Don Alfonso that their fiancees, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, would never betray them. Aided by the maid, Despina, the men hatch a plan to test their wives' loyalty, disguising themselves as soldiers and wooing the other's partner.

At once celebrated and controversial, Sellars' Cosi fan Tutte does more than merely transpose an 18th century masterpiece into the 1990s, but exposes how enduring its central themes are. Stripped bare of everything but its modern sets, costumes and props, this production remains a unique, definitively left-of-centre experience.

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