Must We Mean What We Sing?—Così Fan Tutte and the Lease of Voice
Cavell writes about opera as a medium in which the sceptical threat to the meaning of what we say is rescued by music. Curiously, despite passing references to Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte escaped his direct attention. Yet of all the three Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations, it is Cosi which most intricately examines Cavellian themes of scepticism, sincerity and alienation as well as, notoriously, deploying incongruities between voice, action and music in pursuit of its ethical purpose. Moreover, the opera features a philosopher in active pursuit of a project to “epistemologize” human relationships and, in more recent years, has attracted direct philosophical inquiry. In this essay, I argue that Cosi fan tutte is the most Cavellian of operas and a fitting arena in which to test Cavell’s thought against rival accounts of his central themes.
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