A positive example of beauty – The Jerusalem Opera puts on Cosi Fan Tutte

The Jerusalem Opera enlists Israeli-born Opera singer Mima Millo and acclaimed opera authority Gabriele Ribis to bring a tale of passion to the Israeli stage.

Cosi Fan Tutte by the Jerusalem Opera  (photo credit: YAIR MEYUHAS / STUDIO ZUZ)
Cosi Fan Tutte by the Jerusalem Opera
(photo credit: YAIR MEYUHAS / STUDIO ZUZ)
A man dressed in an animal costume confesses his passion for a woman who coldly rejects him, he provokes her to rage and she tosses away hung theater costumes and walks towards him to make an angry point in sing-song Italian. Meant to serve movement on the stage, the perfumers burst into laughter as the movement causes coat hangers to fly across the stage. Breaking into Hebrew, they debate what technical solution can be found to keep the hangers in place. They then move on to the scene when a clever servant-woman, Despina, pretends to be an attorney and hobbles unto the stage holding wedding contracts. Masterfully portrayed by Mima Milo, the attorney comically coughs directly into the faces of the expected brides and grooms to be before bending to pick something up, at which point one of the women signs the contract on her back – adding an extra touch of comedy to the staging. 
Penned by Mozart in 1790 Cosi Fan Tutte [All Women Do It] can be easily misunderstood as a misogynist opera. After all, it claims that women are fickle and that human loves and loyalties are quick to change when the situation arises. A woman much in love with an Italian army officer might become interested in, say, an Albanian dark haired man if her officer was sent to war and is not expected to return soon. Men might be seduced by pride and arrogance to test those around them in immoral ways, and bemoan what they discover. 
Deemed immoral in the previous century, the opera assumed the cultural status of a classic after the Second World War, which greatly altered the way modern western societies view romantic love, relationships and fidelity. As noted advice columnist and broadcaster Dan Savage said, "in no other area of human activities do we expect people to never make a mistake, accept in monogamous relationships." 
Millo is quick to point out that in the Jerusalem Opera retelling of the story Don Alfonso is transformed to an opera producer who dangles in front of her character a devilish deal, to betray her mistresses for a major role onstage. 
"This is a chance of a lifetime for her to get ahead as an actress," Milo said, "and the life of a singer is complicated. When a singer is in a situation he is given a role it is already after many auditions and learning the music and the texts and preparations and spending money endlessly." 
"Such power dynamics are hard to stand up to," Millo says, "she [Despina] doesn't know the plot and doesn't understand that the men [she works for] will turn on her and in the end she is faced with the shock of bearing sole responsibility for the whole thing." 
Having achieved success in Israel from an early age and performing with the Israeli Opera at age 22, Milo currently resides and works in Berlin, she openly explains why she chose, like many young Israeli artists, to take a chance with life abroad. 
"For women, voice doesn't really mature until you hit 30," she explains. Performers are measured not only by the range and tone of their voice but also by body type and age. Despite having a musical career from a very young age, Milo found herself with few options of advancement in her field in the land of her birth. 
"It is important for me to say that my decision has nothing to do with politics," she said, "it's a personal choice which is connected to the laws of supply and demand." . 
"I am always happy to come and sing in Israel, not only do I love the people here, I also want to support the Jerusalem Opera and for the city to have a cultural blossoming." 
Founded in 2011, the Jerusalem Opera is promoting the creation of a second opera house in Israel next to the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. When Italian opera singer Gabriele Ribis, who had worked with the Jerusalem Opera since it started, was asked how viable it is for such a small country as Israel to support two opera houses he politely pointed out that Israel is no longer so small. 
"Many European countries have fewer citizens than Israel," he said, "and they have more than one opera house." Norway, with a little over five million citizens, supports four opera houses. 
2011  was also the year Ribis created his own festival, the Piccolo Opera Festival in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a north-eastern region near the Italian border with Slovenia. It is a festival "that performs operas in unconventional ways like in castles and villas," he said, "so it is also touristic. Tourists come to enjoy the opera and also see the castles and enjoy special wines." 
Ribis, who is not Jewish, provided plenty of reasons for the creation of an opera house in the capital which go beyond the size of the Israeli population.
"In Jewish culture, music and art have always been [important]," he said, "Many important musicians were Jewish or with Jewish roots so music, in Jewish identity, is extremely important." 
As the Jerusalem Opera productions are usually sold out, people do want to see operas in the capital, Ribis said. And while it's true Tel Aviv is nearby, many opera goers tend to be older and would appreciate a venue closer to home. 
"We in Italy don't have a cold northern organization," Ribis said, "We are more related to fantasy, talent, and to miracles, and in that sense Israel is the perfect land for miracles, which also sometimes happen in Italy." 
"I remember one of the first miracles that happened here was the stunning [2013] performance of Don Giovanni in the Tower of David that was very close to my way of doing shows in Italy," he said. 
When asked about the various ways in which the Opera, which emerged in Italy in the start of the 17'th century and is now a roughly 400 years old art medium, can attract wider audiences Millo and Ribis offer very different answers that point to the diversity of the queen of the arts. 
"The Opera experience today is very different than what people think, very few productions are traditional in the sense of performers standing and singing," Millo said, "today the singer has to sing and also run across the stage and use his whole body." She also points to edgier, more daring styles in directing modern opera that are now gaining notice in Germany. 
Ribis however speaks of the greater value embedded in the opera as a whole. 
"[The opera] is a key point in the development of society," he said, "you can't decide on the financing of a culture according to the market, why? Because the market is not helping in the positive development of society,  money is just about making profits, and we all know profit doesn't look anybody in the face, anything is allowed to make profit." 
"The necessity of art," Ribis said, "is in giving a positive example of beauty and goodness in the meaning of positive suggestions to the people. The Opera is a little society in itself with very precise rules. When it works it offers a message of order, discipline and sacrifice, which we need to know. Especially to the young, we need to say that good results come with effort, sacrifice, and discipline." 
Cosi Fan Tutte by the Jerusalem Opera
December 16 [Sunday] 8.30 p.m
The Jerusalem Theater 
20 David Marcus St. Jerusalem 
December 19 [Wednesday] 8.30 p.m.  
Ashdod Performing Arts Center
1 Derech Eretz St. Ashdod