How does Nowra use the opera Cosi fan Tutte to explore the play’s main ideas?
Set in a typical mental asylum in the 1970’s during the anti-Vietnam War protests and the feminist movement for women's equal rights, the play 'Cosi' by Louis Nowra deeply explores the themes of love and fidelity, in a society predominantly concerned with war and politics. Throughout the play, Nowra uses the play within a play, 'Cosi Fan Tutte', to convey his key values regarding the importance of love and fidelity in today's world, while questioning the necessity of war and condemning society's perceptions of madness itself. The playwright delivers these messages through a number of subtle implications and symbolic features which are evident in the story, ideas, characters, and actual dialogue which are presented in the play, and mirrored in Mozart’s opera ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’. His insights and opinions which are offered through Lewis, go largely against the views of Nick and Lucy who represent the general public, because in addition to the main themes of the play, Nowra intends to open the audience’s eyes to some of the less obvious ideas, such as the necessity of self-discovery and transformation, the significance of art and music in life, and the therapeutic nature of theatre. The predominant theme which runs through ‘Cosi’ is one of love and fidelity, and the opera ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ parallels these ideas by following a similar story line, particularly in the way Guglielmo and Ferrando’s acts of deception in ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ are somewhat connected to Nick and Lucy’s betrayal of Lewis in ‘Cosi’. It is a clear example of life imitating art as the drama in the opera matches Lewis’ challenges with fidelity in his ‘real life’ relationship. ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ roughly translates to ‘women are like that’, and it is this notion that women are unfaithful that Mozart presents in this opera. Knowing this, Nowra purposely mirrors certain elements of the opera in his play, in order to portray the concept of free love in a negative light, which together with his condemnations of war, position the audience to agree with Nowra’s belief that “without love the world wouldn’t mean much” and that we should aim to ‘make love not war’. The concerns of the opera are also very real concerns for the characters in ‘Cosi’, because by performing the opera, they can explore and develop different aspects of their identities and form their own views and understandings of fidelity and love. For example, Cherry decides that she disagrees with her character Despina’s view on love: “They have as much resolve as water… I don’t agree with what Despina is saying of course”. This also relates back to one of Nowra’s less prominent ideas about identity, in regards to self-discovery, growth and transformation.
The actual characters in Nowra’s play are also used to convey different perspectives and opinions on love and fidelity, as do their perceptions of the characters they play in Mozart’s opera. Lucy is a key vessel for the playwright, as she represents the modern women of the 1970’s who challenged what they believed to be an ‘old-fashioned’ concept of love and fidelity. She redefines fidelity in line with modern concepts of morality, by arguing that she is “having sex with Nick and sleeping with” Lewis, presenting the idea that sex and love are unrelated. Nowra also uses Nick as a means to denounce certain views on love, by somewhat portraying him and Lucy as the ‘villains’ of the play. When Nick is talking to the female patients about their roles in ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’, he tells them: “...you want to remain true to your lovers. It’s an old fashioned concept, granted.” We can see that Nowra indeed believes that the view that only women are unfaithful is outdated, and although he acknowledges that our love tends to sway and it can therefore be difficult to remain loyal, he does not endorse Nick or Lucy’s view that social and political issues are more important than love, as his...
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