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Discover the story behind Mozart's comedy opera Così fan tutte, a satirical tale of love that takes a cynical swipe at men and women
Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte is the great composer’s most divisive and controversial work. Così fan tutte wasn’t popular with Mozart’s contemporaries who dismissed it as clumsy and miserable and as such was largely ignored. Despite being premiered in 1790, Così fan tutte didn’t become popular until the middle of the 20th century, but is still dogged with accusations of misogyny. Pictured: Finnur Bjarnason (Ferrando), soprano Sofia Soloviy (Fiordiligi), mezzosoprano Janja Vuletic (Dorabella) and baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer as Guglielmo at the Aix-en-Provence international lyric arts festival, 2008.
The opera’s full title is Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti. More commonly shorted to Cosi fan tutte, which can be loosely translated as “they’re (women) all like that”. Pictured: Elina Garanca as Dorabella, Helen Donath as Despina and Tamar Iveri in the role of Fiordiligi perform as part of the Salzburg Opera Festival, 2005.
Così fan tutte plays its cynicism for laughs with its sharply satirical take on relationships between men and women. Pictured: Tiffany Speight playing Despina and Gary Rowley playing Don Alfonso at the Victorian Opera production of Cosi Fan Tutte by Mozart, at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, 2006.
Così opens in a café with two officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo discussing how they believe their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi respectively, will stay faithful to them. Pictured:Pictured: William Shimell (playing Alfonso) and French baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer (playing Guglielmo) perform as part of Aix-en-Provence international lyric arts festival, 2008.
Overhearing their conversation, Don Alfonso joins them and dismisses their ideas, laying down a wager that he can prove in just a day that the officers’ fiancées are as fickle as all other women. Pictured: The Royal Opera House at the Shaftesbury theatre in London, 1998.
Ferrando and Guglielmo accept Alfonso's wager and make their plan - they will pretend to their lovers that they have been called off to war. Unbeknown to Dorabella and Fiordiligi, the men will return in disguise to try and seduce each other’s fiancée. Pictured: A scene from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte during the Salzburg Festival, 2009.
Alfonso breaks the news of their fiancés departure to war to Dorabella and Fiordiligi and the lovers bid a tearful farewell. The women, accompanied by Alfonso, wave the men off as they set sail to "war" with Soave sia il vento—"May the wind be gentle". Despite their tears, Alfonso still firmly believes the women will be unfaithful. Pictured: Bo Skovhus as Don Alfonso, Miah Persson as Fiordiligi and Topi Lehtipuu in the role of Ferrando, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, and Florian Boesch as Guglielmo in the Adam Fischer directed performance at the Salzburg Festival, 2009.
Returning to the women's house, their maid Despina discovers Dorabella crying in her bedroom and asks what is wrong. She scoffs at Dorabella’s heartbroken reply, telling the sisters to take new lovers while their fiancés are away. Pictured: Mezzosoprano Janja Vuletic as playing Dorabella performs during the rehearsal of 'Cosi fan tutte' directed by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostam, Aix-en-Provence 2008.
Alfonso then arrives with Ferrando and Guglielmo disguised as Albanians who claim their hearts led them to the sisters. Dorabella and Fiordiligi are horrified by the men’s confession and order them to leave. Ferrando and Guglielmo aren’t disheartened and continue to try and woe the women. But the women are determined to stay true to their men and the men's plan looks doomed, even with Despina’s, who is in on it, rather dramatic intervention. Pictured: The Royal Opera House production of Cosi Fan Tutti at the Shaftesbury theatre, London, 1998.
Act 2 opens in the sisters’ bedroom with Despina urging the women to succumb to the “Albanians” advances. Dorabella confesses she is tempted. Pictured: Soprano Sofia Soloviy (playing Fiordiligi), Dutch soprano Judith van Wanroij (playing Despina) and mezzosoprano Janja Vuletic (playing Dorabella) perform at the Aix-en-Provence international lyric arts festival, 2008.
Later in the garden, Dorabella and the disguised Guglielmo pair off and after a rather silted start, they begin to flirt. Dorabella gives Guglielmo a medallion with her fiancé Ferrando’s picture in it in exchange for a heart-shaped locket. Pictured: Sophie Koch in the role of Dorabella and Stephane Degout as Guglielmo perform during a dress rehearsal as part of the Salzburg Festival, 2006.
Meanwhile Ferrando is less successful with Fiordiligi and is furious when he discovers Dorabella betrayed him by giving him the medallion. Guglielmo is rather chuffed and gloats at his fiancé’s faithfulness. Pictured: Mezzosoprano Janja Vuletic (playing Dorabella), French baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer (playing Guglielmo), soprano Sofia Soloviy (playing Fiordiligi) and Icelandic tenor Finnur Bjarnason (playing Ferrando) perform as part of Aix-en-Provence international lyric arts festival, 2008.
But Ferrando isn’t giving in this easily and his second flirtation is far more successful as Fiordiligi falls into his arms. Now it’s Guglielmo’s who’s distraught. Pictured: Miah Persson in the role of Fiordiligi, foreground, and Florian Boesch as Guglielmo perform as part of the Salzburg Festival, 2009.
A double wedding is arranged but just as the marriage contract is drawn up, military music alerts Dorabella and Fiordiligi to the return of Ferrando and Guglielmo. The “Albanians” run off to hide as Ferrando and Guglielmo – now changed out of their disguises – walk in. Pictured:Ana Maria Marinez in the role of Fiordiligi, Shawn Mathey as Ferrando, Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso, Sophie Koch as Dorabella, Helen Donath as Despina and Stephane Degout as Guglielmo at the Salzburg Festival, 2006.
Alfonso drops the marriage contract at the feet of the returned officers who, after retrieving it from the floor, pretend to be shocked and surprised by its contents. Ferrando and Guglielmo leave only to return wearing their Albanian costumes with their officers’ uniforms. The sisters finally realise they have been fooled. Pictured: Miah Persson, Florian Boesch, Bo Skovhus, Isabel Leonard and Topi Lehtipuu at the Salzburg Festival, 2009.
Alfonso, having won his bet, urges the men to forgive their fiancées' indiscretion and the double wedding goes ahead, with the original couples reunited. Pictured: Tenor Finnur Bjarnason (playing Ferrando), soprano Sofia Soloviy (Fiordiligi), soprano Judith van Wanroij (Despina), baritone William Shimell (Alfonso), mezzosopano Janja Vuletic (Dorabella) and baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer (Guglielmo) perform at the Aix-en-Provence international lyric arts festival, 2008.