Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti, K. 588, is a dramma giocoso by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte.
Written and composed at the suggestion of the Emperor Joseph II, the libretto was originally intended to be set to music by Mozart's colleague Antonio Salieri who completed only parts of the first act and then broke off his work. The first performance of Mozart's setting took place at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790.
Mozart and Da Ponte took as a theme "fiancée swapping" which dates back to the 13th century, with notable earlier versions being those of Boccaccio's Decameron and Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. It also incorporates elements of the myth of Procris as found in Ovid.
The plot did not offend Viennese sensibilities of the time, but throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries it was considered risqué. As such, Così fell out of the operatic repertoire for many years, and when it did appear at all it was presented in one of several bowdlerized versions. After World War II, it regained its place in the standard operatic repertoire.
There are many recordings of Così, and it is frequently performed, being the fifteenth most performed opera in North America according to Opera America. The play Così, written by playwright Louis Nowra, features mental patients acting this opera. Many extracts from the opera were used as incidental music in the 2004 movie Closer.
The title literally means "Thus do all (women)" but is often translated as "Women are like that". The words are sung by the three male singers in Act II, Scene xi, just before the finale. Moreover, the words were earlier sung in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (in Act I, Scene vii), also by da Ponte, making the title a sort of Mozartian in-joke.
Act I. In a coffee shop, Ferrando and Guglielmo (two officers) claim that their brides (Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respectively) will be eternally faithful. Don Alfonso joins the discussion and lays a wager with the two officers, claiming he can prove in a day's time that these two women (like all women) are fickle. The wager is accepted: the two officers will pretend to have been called off to war; soon thereafter they shall return in disguise and attempt to seduce the others' lover. The scene shifts to the two women (they are sisters) who are praising their men. Alfonso arrives to announce the bad news: the officers have been called off to war. Ferrando and Guglielmo arrive, brokenhearted, and bid farewell (quintet: Sento, o Dio, che questo piedo è restio—"I feel, oh God, that my foot is reluctant"). As the boat with the men sails off to sea, Alfonso and the sisters wish them safe travel (trio: Soave sia il vento—"May the wind be gentle"), then Alfonso, left alone, rails against the fickleness of women (arioso: Oh, poverini, per femmina giocar cento zecchini?—"Oh, poor little ones, to wager 100 sequins on a woman").
The scene shifts to a room in the sisters' home. Despina, their maid, arrives and asks what is wrong. Dorabella bemoans the torment of having been left alone (aria: Smanie implacabili—"Torments implacable"). Despina mocks the sisters, advising them to consider new lovers over old lovers (aria: In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltá?—"In men, in soldiers, you hope for faithfulness?"). After they depart, Alfonso arrives upon the scene. He fears Despina will recognize the men through their disguises, so he bribes her into helping him win the bet. The two men then arrive, dressed as mustachioed Albanians. The sisters enter and are alarmed by the presence of strange men in their home. The Albanians attempt to win over the sisters, Guglielmo going so far as to point out all of his manly attributes (aria: Non siate ritrosi—"Don't be shy"), but to no avail (aria: Come Scoglio—"Like a rock"). Ferrando, left alone and sensing victory, praises his love (aria: Un aura amorosa—"A loving breath").
The scene shifts to a garden, with the sisters still pining. But Despina has asked Don Alfonso to let her take over the seduction plan—and suddenly, the Albanians burst in the scene and threaten to poison themselves if they are not allowed the chance to woo the sisters. As Alfonso tries to calm them, they drink the poison and pass out. Soon thereafter, a doctor arrives on the scene (Despina in disguise), who, through use of a large magnet, is able to revive the Albanians. The revived men, hallucinating, demand a kiss of the goddesses who stand before them. The sisters refuse, even as Alfonso and the doctor (Despina) urge them to acquiesce.
Act II. The act opens in the sisters' bedroom, with Despina urging them to succumb to the Albanians' overtures (aria: Una donna a quindici anni—"A fifteen year old woman"). After she leaves, Dorabella confesses to Fiordiligi that she is tempted. Fiordiligi remains steadfast, however (duet: Prenderó quel brunettino"—"You take the darker one").
The scene shifts to the garden, where Dorabella and the disguised Guglielmo pair off, as do the other two. The conversation is haltingly uncomfortable, and Ferrando departs with Fiodiligi. Now alone, Guglielmo attempts to woo Dorabella. She does not resist strongly, and soon she has given him a medallion (with Ferrando's portrait inside) in exchange for a heart-shaped locket (duet: Il core vi dono—"I give you my heart"). Ferrando is less successful with Fiordiligi (Ferrando's aria: Ah, lo veggio—"Ah, I see it," and Fiodiligi's aria: Per pietá, ben mio, perdona—"Please, my beloved, forgive"), so he is enraged when he later finds out from Guglielmo that the medallion with his portrait has been so quickly given away to a new lover. Guglielmo at first sympathises with Ferrando (aria: Donne mie, la fate a tanti—"My ladies, you do it to so many") but then gloats, because his betrothed is faithful.
The scene changes to the sister's room, where Dorabella admits her indiscretion to Fiordiligi (É amore un ladroncello—"Is love a little thief"). Fiordiligi, upset by this development, decides to go to the army and find her betrothed. Before she can leave, though, Ferrando arrives and continues his attempted seduction. Fiordiligi finally succumbs and falls into his arms (duet: Tra gli amplessi—"In the embraces"). Guglielmo is distraught while Ferrando turns Guglielmo's earlier gloating back on him. Alfonso, winner of the wager, tells the men to forgive their fiancées. After all: Cosi fan tutte—"All women are like that."
The final scene begins as a double wedding for the sisters and their Albanian grooms. Despina, in disguise as a notary, presents the marriage contract, which all sign. Directly thereafter, military music is heard in the distance, indicating the return of the officers. Alfonso confirms the sisters' fears: Ferrando and Guglielmo are on their way to the house. The Albanians hurry off to hide (actually, to change out of their disguises). They return as the officers, professing their love. Alfonso drops the marriage contract in front of the officers, and, when they read it, they become enraged. They then depart and return moments later, half in Albanian disguise, half as officers. Despina has been revealed to be the notary, and the sisters realize they have been duped. All is ultimately forgiven, as the entire group praises the ability to accept life's unavoidable good times and bad times.
Throbbing Gristle founder Cosey Fanni Tutti took her name after this opera.
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