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Così fan tutte, or The School for Lovers, premiered in Vienna on January 26, 1790 at the Burgtheater.
The opera takes place in Naples in the 18th century.
W.A. Mozart, COSÌ FAN TUTTE, or The School for Lovers
Between the years 1786 and 1789, Mozart, the thirty-year old genius from the then provincial town of Salzburg, would create three of the most memorable and beloved of all operas with his gifted librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. These operas, The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Don Giovanni in 1787, and Così fan tutte in 1789 are often referred to as Mozart’s ‘Da Ponte’ operas, for the librettos created by the Jewish Italian immigrant who became the favorite author of Austrian emperor Joseph II, are literary masterpieces in and of themselves.
1788 was a terrible year for Mozart. He had little work, his wife was sick, and he barely made enough to keep hearth and home. He planned a series of subscription concerts for which he would write his final three symphonies – unquestionably his greatest symphonies, numbers 39, 40 and 41 – but the subscription series was cancelled due to poor sales.
The emperor had just returned from the Russian-Turkish war, in which the Austrians fought alongside the Russians, and he was ready to close the Italian opera in Vienna because it was losing too much money. But he was convinced by Da Ponte to keep it open, and as a result of the tremendous success of a revival of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna that year, the emperor commissioned Mozart to write a new opera in collaboration with Da Ponte.
The story of Così may have been suggested by the emperor himself, and was supposed to have been based on actual events in Tireste. The intriguing tale of fickle young lovers was the subject of a great deal of gossip among good Austrian society. Mozart’s rival Antonio Salieri tried his hand at setting the story to music, but never completed the project.
Mozart wrote the music for Così in a dazzling blaze of speed, taking just the month of December 1789 to finish the opera. By the end of January 1790, the opera premiered to rapturous applause – its run of performances was cut short only because the emperor passed away shortly after the premiere. Of Mozart’s 22 operas, Così is number 20 – to be followed by La Clemenza di Tito, which was only a modest success, and The Magic Flute, which is considered by many to be among his greatest works. During the 19th and early 20th century Così was considered to be risqué, and it fell out of favor with audiences. Since World War II, however, it has regained its rightful place among the most beloved of operas.
Two young military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast to Don Alfonso that their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, are irreproachable in their steadfastness and virtue. The cynical bachelor Alfonso says that he is ready to wager that, given the right circumstances, both girls will forget their promises and take new lovers. The two young men confidently accept the bet and agree to follow Alfonso’s instructions for the next twenty-four hours. Meanwhile, Dorabella and Fiordiligi gaze at the portraits of their lovers and pour out their heartfelt emotions. Alfonso enters, announcing that the two officers are coming to say ‘goodbye’, because they have suddenly been called to war. This is a ruse invented by Alfonso to test the girls’ fidelity. The girls and Don Alfonso bid the soldiers a fond farewell. The maid Despina tries to console Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Dorabella laments her despair in the great aria Smanie implacabili (Unending Longing). Despina tells them not to expect their sweethearts to be faithful – “Fidelity in a man – in a soldier,” she tells them, “is just sentimental drivel.” The sisters leave, and Don Alfonso asks Despina to help him in his ruse. She agrees, for a price, to introduce two new suitors to Fiordiligi and Dorabella. They are in fact Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise. The reaction of the sisters is to immediately throw them out, and in the aria Come Scoglio (Like a Rock), Fiordiligi says her fidelity is unwavering. With this stern reception, Ferrando and Guglielmo think they have won and demand payment from Alfonso, who reminds them the day is not over and he who laughs last, laughs best. As the sisters lament the loss of their fiancées, the boys, still in disguise, enter with Alfonso. Guglielmo and Ferrando say they will take poison if the girls do not pay attention to them – and so they drink and fall to the ground. Despina runs off to supposedly get a doctor and the girls, now left alone with their new suitors, are moved by their desperate attempt at suicide for love. Despina enters, disguised as the doctor, and cures the boys who immediately resume their declarations of love as the Act I curtain falls.
Dorabella and Fiordiligi are persuaded by Despina to meet their new suitors that evening. In the delightful aria Una donna a quindici anni (What Every Girl Fifteen or Older Needs to Know), Despina gives them a little lesson – it is a woman’s job to manage men, using all their charms to be the queen of their kingdom. That evening, Don Alfonso and Despina arrange that the suitors be paired off – Guglielmo with his friend’s fiancée Dorabella and Ferrando with Fiordiligi. Dorabella begins to encourage Guglielmo while Fiordiligi remains steadfast. When the boys compare notes, Ferrando despairs that his Dorabella could be so fickle, while Guglielmo rejoices that his Fiordiligi has remained constant. Fiordiligi declares that she is going off to join her fiancée. Dressed as a soldier, she is about to leave when Ferrando, still in disguise, enters. His arguments this time are successful, and she falls into his arms. It is now Guglielmo’s turn to despair which he does in this great aria in which he excoriates all women. Don Alfonso claims victory. All that’s left is to prepare for the wedding. The wedding banquet is prepared and the farce reaches its climax. The two couples – Guglielmo and Dorabella, Ferrando and Fiordiligi sign wedding contracts before a notary, who is really Despina in disguise. Just then, military drums are heard announcing the return of the army. The boys quickly hide, change back to their original clothes and return as themselves. Don Alfonso hands over the wedding contracts to the young men, who refuse to listen to their sweetheart’s protests. The boys draw their swords, rush off to pursue their fake rivals, and re-enter with half of their disguises on. The farce is revealed to the sisters. Don Alfonso calms the girls down and the couples – but which ones? – are united.
Fiordiligi (soprano) - Approximately 18 years old. An upper-class young lady, very upright, very proper, very strong-willed. She is in love with Guglielmo, a military officer.
Dorabella (soprano) - Fiorgiligi’s sister, approximately 17 years old. Also an upper-class young lady, but more temperamental, fiery and fickle. She is in love with Ferrando, also a military officer and Guglielmo’s best friend.
Ferrando (tenor) - A young man in his early twenties. Passionate and exuberant. Very much in love with Dorabella.
Guglielmo (baritone) - Ferrando’s best friend, also in his early twenties. He is also passionate, but more level-headed. Very much in love with Fiordiligi.
Don Alfonso (bass) - Guglielmo and Ferrando’s mentor and friend, he is a family friend to the sisters. Middle aged, quite cynical about love and life, a confirmed bachelor. He wants to teach his young friends a lesson about human nature, and makes the boys a bet that their sweethearts will desert them under the right conditions.
Despina (soprano) - Fiordiligi and Dorabella’s maid. She is lower class, very bright and street-smart. Her opinion of morality is the same as Don Alfonso’s and she gladly helps him in his ruse, for a price.
Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in the Austrian city of Salzburg, where his father Leopold was a moderately successful musician. It was obvious very early on that the boy was a musical genius: he began composing at age six and wrote his first opera at twelve. Young Wolfgang was a keyboard and violin virtuoso, and had an uncanny knack for improvisation. After several years touring Europe, Mozart settled into an unrewarding position at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The death of his mother in 1779 kept him from pursuing commissions elsewhere. In 1781, his early opera seria triumph Idomeneo was well-received in Munich, and Mozart finally left Salzburg for Vienna, where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1782 he married Constanze Weber, and the couple lived modestly on an income from teaching and concerts. Mozart’s operas enjoyed a moderate success, and he found a strong supporter in Emperor Franz Joseph II, who awarded him a small court appointment in 1787. Even so, Mozart’s financial concerns deepened. He began to overwork himself, which no doubt affected his already failing health. He died in Vienna on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35.
Over four hundred of Mozart’s compositions survive, in almost every form and style. His catalogue includes 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, 25 string quartets, 17 operas, countless other instrumental and vocal music, and the great, unfinished Requiem Mass (it was completed by his pupil Süssmayr). The most famous of his operas are Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782), Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Così fan tutte (1790) and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791).
Mozart’s often irreverent behavior and frequent financial troubles have led to many rather melodramatic depictions of his life, most notably Peter Shaffer’s hit play and move Amadeus. However, many of these accounts, including Mozart’s supposed death at the hands of his rival Salieri, are greatly exaggerated. Above all, Mozart was a musical genius, whose works illuminate mankind’s weaknesses and nobility with unparalleled grace and sympathy.
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Enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand it all with English translations. The English text is projected on a screen above the stage for each opera. Easy to follow, and easy to understand every twist and turn of the plot!