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Cross-dressing for love in ‘Double Coquette’

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Cross-dressing for love in ‘Double Coquette’

A Scene from “La Double Coquette.”

Florise opens her inbox to find an invitation to a party, but also sees her suitor on Facebook with another woman. In an attempt to win him back, she plots to disguise herself as a man to break them up. Her plan changes when she ends up falling in love with the other woman.

This modern love story is the U.S. premiere of “La Double Coquette,” a revised comic opera from the Baroque period. It was originally titled “La Coquette trompée” and written in 1753 by composer Antoine Dauvergne and librettist Charles-Simon Favart.

Composer Gérard Pesson revised the score, working with Pierre Alfieri, a novelist and poet who reworked the libretto. The duo made 32 additions — asides, codas, harmonies and supplements — to the original opera.

David Templeton, associate professor of voice and director of opera at the College of Charleston, said the composer typically makes their own revisions and this sort of meddling more than two centuries after the fact is a bit unusual.

“If you’re changing the libretto, you’re changing the message,” Templeton said. “When one changes music to express something for a 21st-century ear, it’s one thing. Within the opera or drama itself, that’s going to change the message.” But this sort of adventurous risk-taking is what Spoleto Festival does well, he added. “It’s unique and that’s what Spoleto strives for, and thrives upon.”

Alfieri, who has never previously written a libretto, said he had to make the vocabulary his own, since he didn’t just want a juxtaposition of 18th-century and 21st-century language. He wanted to explore the ambiguity of the original work.

“What I did was take some words that are still used and enlarged the scope of their meaning, because sometimes words have such large and ambiguous meanings when you talk about desire, love, pleasure, (loathing) and duty,” he said. “So you can really keep a large part of this basic (vocabulary) and move it toward contemporary reality.”

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Pesson went into Dauvergne’s music and made himself “feel at home,” according to a 2014 “La Double Coquette” brochure.

“A chord from Dauvergne’s original may resonate, echoing on, there may be one note added and held,” Pesson wrote. “Excerpts may make fleeting, insolent appearances (for example, a few notes from the soundtrack of ‘Snow White’ or a hint of ‘Carmen’) or they may stand out as stylized diction, such as rap or ‘expressive Morse code.’”

Another modern addition to the opera is the wardrobe, designed by visual artist Annette Messager, who said she is new to costume design. Florise wears a fur gown, which Messager said gives her almost a savage side, since she’s so worked-up.

“When she undertakes dressing as a man, I decided that the real man and the false man would both have the same look, thus the same type of costume,” she said.

The dramatic aspects in “La Double Coquette” aren’t just about romance or disguise, but identity and change.

“It’s all about ... inventing a new name for yourself, a new identity,” Alfieri said. “(Florise) puts on a mustache and suddenly something else becomes possible.”

Stephanie Jade Wong is a Goldring graduate student at Syracuse University.

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