Opera North Blog

Così fan tutte in a nutshell

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Così fan tutte. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

All you need to know about Mozart's opera Così fan tutte in one place — right here!

What is the story about?

The opera’s full title Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti means ‘Thus do they all, or The School for Lovers’.

The story begins with a wily old cynic and experimental philosopher, Don Alfonso, who determines to overturn the perfect, formulaic worlds of two young men, named Ferrando and Gugliemo. He bets them that their respective fiancées would not stay faithful for a moment if put to the test, and the challenge is accepted.

Before long, fiancées (and sisters) Fiordiligi and Dorabella discover that their lovers are leaving to ‘go to war’, and two handsome strangers (Ferrando and Gugliemo in disguise) arrive on a mission of seduction…

As Don Alfonso ups the ante and throws increasingly extreme situations at all four lovers, they begin to react emotionally and each character cannot help but reveal, and discover, who they really are. With certainty a distant memory, who knows how the story will end?

Not afraid of spoilers? Check out this fun cartoon strip of the plot

Who are the main characters?

The Girls
Fiordiligi
Dorabella

The Boys
Ferrando
Guglielmo

The meddling observers...
Don Alfonso (an old cynic)
Despina (a maid)

Use this fun diagram to find out more about the characters and their interwoven relationships.

Così fan tutte is often said to be the perfect ensemble opera. A small cast, the six roles are almost equal in weight and equal in importance to the piece, without a ‘leading lady’.

What is the music like?

Così fan tutte contains some of the most dazzlingly beautiful music ever written by Mozart. One particularly notable moment is Fiordiligi’s show-stopping aria ‘Come scoglio’ (in English, ‘Like a fortress’), which is very popular as a concert piece. Full of spectacular vocal fireworks, Fiordiligi declares with determination that she will remain faithful to her fiancé.

What is this production like?

Tim Albery’s production of Così fan tutte, originally conceived back in 2004, is set in the era of the enlightenment, a time of social, as well as scientific, experiments. The action takes place inside a giant mahogany box or ‘camera obscura’, which opens to reveal a strikingly simple set in which the action takes place. The doors of the set open as rat flaps to let characters in or out of the experiment.

The costumes are designed in 18th Century style and are gorgeously lavish, but also function as a device to represent the gradual emotional liberation of the characters. Therefore formal wigs and monochrome/silver give way to brighter colours and increasingly informal dress as the opera goes on, and each characters becomes more individual.

Visit the Così fan tutte webpage to see some photos from previous runs of the production…


Così fan tutte. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

A little more about the opera

Who was the composer?

Così fan tutte was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perhaps the most famous composer of all time!  It premiered in Vienna on 26 January 1790. The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte, who was also Mozart’s librettist on the highly successful operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Mozart c.1780, detail from portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (left) Lorenzo Da Ponte, engraving by Michele Pekenino after Nathaniel Rogers

What style is the opera in?

Mozart’s operas were written at the height of the classical period in music history – a time of elegance, beauty, refinement and grace.  They are written in the classical ‘recitative and aria’ structure (recitative being the ‘story-telling’ between arias where singers adopt the rhythms of speech accompanied by a ‘continuo’ e.g. a harpsicord). The musical phrases are perfectly crafted and balance each other equally, and Così fan tutte in particular contains an intricate combination of arias, duets, trios, quartets and sextets, with the vocal lines closely interwoven.

A little trivia…

  • The storyline of Così fan tuttebased around infidelity, was considered very scandalous in the 19th Century. Therefore anytime the opera was performed it was accompanied by an apology for the frivolous plot, altered or sometimes completely rewritten!
  • In 1994, two works by Mozart’s contemporary Antonio Salieri were discovered, showing that Salieri also attempted to set the libretto of Così fan tutte to music, but did not complete the project.
  • The words ‘Così fan tutte’ are sung by the men in Act II, just before the finale. Librettist da Ponte had also used the line ‘Così fan tutte le belle’ previously in The Marriage of Figaro.
  • Mozart’s own life slightly resembled the story of Così fan tutte for a time – a few years before he married his wife Constanze Weber, he was engaged to her sister Aloysia.
  • Mozart created the role of Fiordiligi for da Ponte’s mistress Adriana Ferrarese del Bene. However, he disliked her intensely, and, knowing her idiosyncratic tendency to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, he filled her showpiece aria Come scoglio (‘Like a rock/fortress’) with constant leaps from low to high and high to low in order to make the prima donna’s head “bob like a chicken” onstage!

Così fan tutte is in 2 acts with one interval, and lasts approximately 3 hours in total.

For more info or to book tickets, visit the Così fan tutte webpage.

In a nutshell is a new blog series devised by Opera North.

What you say

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Peter Rhodes said ago

An excellent production. Brilliant voices and first rate orchestra (as usual). Whilst the rather fast tempi gave the performance a good dynamic it did make it difficult on occasions for the singers to "fit in" all the words and notes. The men's diction was excellent throughout the diction of the female voices sometimes struggled at this fast pace - particularly Despina's aria (which was so fast that we could not hear a single word). We loved the translation (new to us) so it would have been good to hear the words of her aria. We agree with an earlier comment - "too much chair moving". Dorabella's vocal focus on occasions was a minor criticism. Overall we gave the whole performance 9/10. Well done to all involved.

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