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Così fan tutte in a nutshell

Everything you need to know about Mozart’s comedy 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 ‘They all do it, or The School for Lovers’. The story begins with experimental philosopher Don Alfonso, who wants to overturn the perfect, formulaic worlds of two young men, Ferrando and Gugliemo. He bets them that both their fiancées would not stay faithful if tempted, and the challenge is accepted.

Before long, the fiancées Fiordiligi and Dorabella (who are also sisters) discover that their lovers are leaving to ‘go to war’, and suddenly two handsome strangers (Ferrando and Gugliemo in disguise, obviously) 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 can’t help but discover – and reveal – who they really are. Who will end up with who?

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Heather Lowe as Dorabella and Henry Neill as Guglielmo © James Glossop

Who are the characters?

Fiordiligi [fior-dil-I-gi] — fiancée of Guglielmo
Dorabella [dor-a-BELL-a] — fiancée of Ferrando
Ferrando [ferr-AN-do] — fiancé of Dorabella
Guglielmo [gu-li-EL-mo] — fiancé of Fiordiligi
Don Alfonso [don al-FON-so] — an old philosopher and cynic
Despina [des-PI-na] — a maid

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

Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi, Gillene Butterfield as Despina and Heather Lowe as Dorabella © James Glossop

What is the music like?

Così fan tutte contains some of the most sublime music Mozart ever wrote. It has an intricate combination of arias, duets, trios, quartets and sextets, with the vocal lines closely interwoven. Highlights include:

— the famous trio ‘Soave sia il vento’ (‘O wind gently blowing‘) – you can hear the breeze in the strings
— Ferrando’s tender ‘Un’aura amorosa’ (‘Our love is a flower‘)
— Fiordiligi’s show-stopping ‘Come scoglio‘ (‘Like a rock’), in which she insists that she will remain faithful – it’s full of spectacular vocal fireworks!

As an opera of the classical period, all the musical phrases are perfectly balanced, and the arias are connected by ‘recitative’ (sung speech performed with ‘continuo’ such as harpsichord accompanying the singers), where the plot development happens.

What is this production like?

Tim Albery’s production of Così fan tutte, first seen 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’, and the doors of the set open like rat flaps to let characters in or out of the experiment.

The costumes are 18th Century in style and gorgeously lavish, but also serve as a device to show the gradual emotional liberation of the characters throughout the opera. Formal wigs and monochrome/silver give way to brighter colours and increasingly informal dress as the plot develops and each character discovers themselves…

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Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi, Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Anthony Gregory as Ferrando and Heather Lowe as Dorabella © James Glossop

Who was the composer?

Così fan tutte is written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1787), maybe the most famous composer of all time! It premiered in Vienna on 26 January 1790. The libretto (text) was written by Lorenzo da Ponte, who was also Mozart’s librettist on the highly successful operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Posthumous painting of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft, 1819

Did you know?

— In 1994, two works by Mozart’s peer (and rival, although much of that is fiction!) Antonio Salieri were discovered, showing that Salieri also started to set the libretto of Così fan tutte to music, but did not complete the project.

— 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 did not like her, and having spotted her tendency to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, he filled 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” on stage!

Playbill for the first Così fan tutte performance, 1790

Così fan tutte is sung in English translation (with English titles) and lasts approximately 3 hours, including one interval.

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