Così fan tutte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Così fan tutte

K588 • “They All Do It”

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Così fan tutte (All women act that way) is the last of Mozart's three "da Ponte" operas -- those composed to libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte (the other two are Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni). Long neglected and misunderstood, Così emerged from obscurity in the twentieth century and has come to be regarded as among the composer's finest, if also most problematic, works.

It has been assumed that the opera was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II, probably sometime during the summer of 1789. Coming as it did during a fallow period in Mozart's output, the work was a financial boon to him and allowed for the repayment of some debt. Little is known about the creation of the work, but the first rehearsal took place in Mozart's apartment on January 21, 1790, and the first performance was at the Burgtheater in Vienna five days later. This initial run was extremely brief, due to Joseph II's death after only five performances had been mounted; the closing of the Viennese theaters prevented any further performances until June.

Da Ponte's libretto is presumed to be an original work, but its numerous literary precedents included episodes in Ovid's Metamorphosis as well as da Ponte's own libretto for Martin y Soler's L'abore di Diana; the latter was written coincidentally with Così. Suggestions that the plot was based on actual events within Viennese society have not been substantiated. Two friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo, wager with Don Alfonso that their lovers, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, will remain constant in their absence. To prove the point, they depart under false pretenses and return as "Albanians" who try to woo the women away.

The libretto has long been considered flimsy, misogynistic, immoral, and dramatically unresolvable. However, any judgement of the opera as a whole must take account of Mozart's exceedingly fine and deeply interesting score. Through music, Fiordiligi transcends her role as the victim of cruel manipulation, revealing a complex personality that is sincere, capable of growth, and inarguably sympathetic. In contrast, Guglielmo never progresses beyond concern for his own ego and interests; his music, fittingly, remains within the stock traditions of opera buffa. Each of the six characters receives an equally insightful portrait, and the ambigous nature of the ending (who actually loves whom?), while vexing to directors and audiences, can be seen as appropriate, given the emotional issues aired during the drama.

The marriage of Mozart's score and da Ponte's libretto represents the apotheosis of the opera buffa genre (making its setting in Naples -- the birthplace of the genre -- all the more appropriate) and embodies the best of the Classical era. Moments that, at first glance, seem transparent, formulaic, and impersonal become instead clarifying, organic, and genuinely inspired.

There is an unusually large number of vocal ensembles in the score, far more than are found in either Don Giovanni or Figaro. All of these highlight Mozart's unique fusion of symphonic techniques with lyrical expression. The best-known ensemble is undoubtedly the trio "Soave sia il vento," sung by Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and Don Alfonso, in which farce, grief, and the musical depiction of gentle waves are seamlessly combined to form one of opera's brightest gems. The finales of both acts are typically Mozartean in their complexity, ambition, and symphonic logic, and, especially in the case of the Act One finale, they are arguably finer than those composed for any other of his operas. The combination of logical, restrained structure and lyrical outpouring in these finales encapsulates Mozart's unique operatic voice.