Mozart’s Così fan tutte

Event: Mozart’sCosì fan tutte
Date: March 31, 2018, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 31 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Così fan tutteper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Così fan tutteper student • $11.00 online


Naples, late 18th century. Two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast about the beauty and virtue of their girls, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their older friend, the cynical Don Alfonso, declares that a woman’s constancy is like the phoenix—everyone talks about it but no one has ever seen it. He proposes a wager of one hundred sequins: if they’ll give him one day and do everything he asks, he will prove to them that the sisters are unfaithful, like all other women. Amused, the young men agree.

Fiordiligi and Dorabella think of their lovers, imagining that they will soon be married (Duet: “Ah, guarda sorella”). Alfonso’s plot begins when he arrives with terrible news: the young officers have been called away to their regiment. Ferrando and Guglielmo appear, apparently heartbroken, and the four make tearful farewells. As the soldiers leave, the two women and Alfonso wish them a safe journey (Trio: “Soave sia il vento”).

The sisters’ maid Despina complains about how much work she has to do around the house. The girls enter and Dorabella vents her despair (“Smanie implacabili”). Despina refuses to take them seriously: they should simply find new lovers, since men are unworthy of a woman’s fidelity (“In uomini, in soldati”). Fiordiligi and Dorabella are shocked. Alfonso arrives and bribes Despina to assist him, without revealing his plot. Ferrando and Guglielmo enter, disguised as “Albanians,” and declare their admiration for the ladies, each addressing the other’s girlfriend. The sisters firmly reject their advances, Fiordiligi comparing her constancy to a rock in a storm (“Come scoglio”). The men are confident of winning the bet. Ferrando expresses his love for Dorabella (“Un’aura amorosa”), and the two friends leave.

As the sisters continue to lament the absence of their lovers, the “foreigners” return, pretending to have poisoned themselves in despair over their rejection. Despina and Alfonso go off to fetch help, leaving the two girls to care for the strangers, who find the situation highly amusing. Despina reappears disguised as a doctor and pretends to draw out the poison with a magnet. When Ferrando and Guglielmo request kisses in order to fully recover, the sisters again reject them, but it is clear they’re beginning to show interest in the strangers.

Despina lectures her mistresses on how to handle men (“Una donna a quindici anni”) and the sisters agree that there can be no harm in a little flirtation. They decide on their partners, each picking the other’s suitor. Guglielmo, flirting with Dorabella, succeeds in replacing her portrait of Ferrando with his own gift (Duet: “Il core vi dono”). Ferrando has less luck with Fiordiligi, but when he has left, she struggles with her emotions (“Per pieta, ben mio”).

Ferrando is certain that they have won the wager. Guglielmo is happy to hear that Fiordiligi has been faithful to him, but when he shows his friend the portrait he took from Dorabella, Ferrando is furious. Guglielmo, adopting Alfonso’s philosophy, blames it on the women (“Donne mie, la fate a tanti!”). He asks Alfonso to pay him his half of the winnings, but Alfonso reminds him that the day is not yet over.

Fiordiligi reproaches her sister for her behavior, but Dorabella replies that love is a thief who rewards those who obey him (“È amore un ladroncello”). Alone, Fiordiligi decides to join Guglielmo at the front, when suddenly Ferrando appears. He tries one last time to seduce her and succeeds.

Guglielmo is furious, but Alfonso again declares that this is the way women are. A man who has been deceived can blame only himself.

The sisters have agreed to marry the “foreigners.” Everything is ready and Alfonso arrives with the notary—Despina in another disguise. As Fiordiligi and Dorabella sign the contract, military music announces the return of their former lovers. In panic, they hide their intended husbands, who return as their real selves, first pretending surprise at their reception, then, when they discover the marriage contract, blaming the girls and threatening revenge. Finally, the men reveal their disguised identities and Fiordiligi and Dorabella ask forgiveness. Alfonso bids the lovers learn their lesson.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Così fan Tutte, the last of the three Mozart/da Ponte collaborations, did not fare well until the mid-20th century. It was considered trivial, cynical, immoral. Beethoven and Wagner both wondered how Mozart could have lavished such lovely music on such an unworthy story. Is it? And is it misogynistic?

Some literary precedents have been proposed, but essentially Così is an original story. The plot is as mechanical as clockwork, as symmetrical as geometry. There are no subplots. The unities are strictly observed, with the whole business taking place in one day. We have six characters, three women and three men: two sets of lovers whose love is put to the test by trickery, and two tricksters who arrange the scam. The action begins with disguises and a departure, and ends with a return and the removal of disguises. The lovers are clearly well-to-do; the tricksters are a nobleman, Don Alfonso, and Despina, a maidservant, flanking the lovers on the social scale. The lovers are impossible romantics. Alfonso and Despina are realists.    
The music is often parodistic. For instance, at the first entrance of the ladies, an orchestral introduction with oscillating woodwinds sounds like cheap circus music. And yet, consider the trio sung by the ladies and Alfonso as the men sail off, supposedly to war. The song wishes them gentle breezes. The ladies are devastated. Don Alfonso is faking it. Mozart, however, is not. His characters may be puppets, but they have a volcanic emotional life.

What is the message of Così? That women are fickle? The men are hardly more admirable. They wager Don Alfonso without a second thought; their girlfriends have plenty of second thoughts. The emotional cruelty of the men’s deception is far more blameworthy than the “weakness” of the women.  

No, it’s not that women are fickle. People are. This is an anti-romantic opera: for all its artificiality, a realistic one. It cuts passion down to size. It tells us that most of what we think about love, what men think about women and women men, is illusory. One lover is pretty much as good as another, or as bad. As Joe E. Brown remarks at the end of Some Like It Hot, when Jack Lemmon removes his drag and reveals himself to be a man: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”