OSWEGO, NY – If “all women are like that,” then all guys are like this: three friends (two young, one a lot older) meet for golf and get into a good-natured argument. Don Alfonso, retired army officer and self-styled “philosopher,” states that experience has taught him that women cannot remain faithful to their lovers when faced with temptation. Ferrando and Guglielmo, younger officers, protest that their fiancés, Dorabella and Fiordiligi respectively, would never betray them.
Don Alfonso proposes a wager, which the young guys accept greedily.
But – says the elder – you must follow my instructions exactly.
Fiordiligi and Dorabella, both beautiful and well-to-do young ladies, are at their seaside home, comparing the virtues of their financés.
Don Alfonso appears to deliver awful news that the guys are called up by their army unit. After much weeping and sad farewells (and Don Alfonso hardly able to control his laughter), the boys depart to a beautiful trio of the ladies and the Don bidding the breezes, ocean and heaven to be benign.
When the ladies’ housemaid Despina hears their carrying on, she presents to them that this is a great opportunity for new “entertainment” while the soldiers are away. The sisters are shocked – but Despina advises them that “air’s inconsistency and liquid’s mobility have more stability than a man’s heart,” and they shouldn’t look for pity in primitive hearts but should base their love on “convenience.”
Don Alfonso realizes that Despina is very sharp and probably will see through his plan to trip up the ladies. So, he offers her a bribe (a good thing since she says there’s very little of interest a man of his age could offer her) to cooperate by helping him introduce the ladies to two new suitors.
The boys arrive in outlandish disguises, (Flying Aces from the Albanian Air Force) but their amorous suite is rejected with scorn and outrage by the distraught Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Out they go.
As the ladies pine over their sad fate, the rejected suitors return with a new ploy (thanks to Don Alfonso): they loudly pretend to gulp down bottles of arsenic, and fall, in apparently mortal agony, to the floor. Don Alfonso urges them to help, so they call for Despina. Totally into the game, she races out for a doctor as the girls attend the now thoroughly happy men.
Despina comes back disguised as the doctor, and revives the men with a giant magnet, pulling the poison right out of them. Ferrando and Guglielmo find themselves “back” among the living, in the arms of the ladies. They must be in paradise! Then they demand a kiss. This is soundly rejected by the ladies – “a scandal!” All six express their separate thoughts: the boys that the girls will love them with the warmth their rage exemplifies; the ladies vehemently protesting; and Don Alfonso and Despina claiming certainty that the ladies will give in to new love.
Act I concludes with one of the most rousing if not miraculous ensembles in all opera.
Later, with all calm again, Despina berates the ladies for not treating love as a mere trifle, and urges them to utilize their feminine feelings and wiles. They decide “OK, we’ll try new entertainment,” and discuss which of the two suitors each should choose. “I’ll try that one who seems very witty;” “I want to laugh and joke with that one.” Of course, they have each chosen the boy who is not her fiancé.
In the garden the suitors are joined by friends and sing to the breezes to carry their plaint to the goddesses they adore and assure them of their love. The ladies enter, and Despina and Don Alfonso coach the bashful pairs, and then leave them to “the stimulus of chemistry.” Guglielmo and Dorabella reach an “understanding,” and when Ferrando learns of the betrayal, he sees no way to go on living. Guglielmo is at a loss to explain to his friend – “maybe they have reasonable complaints.”
Fiordiligi is alone, and regrets revealing her feelings to her sister and servant, and determines to set out in disguise to find her real lover on his battlefield. Ferrando interrupts and vows to die if she refuses him again. Surprised, she hesitates but cannot refuse his quiet offer to be her “husband, lover and more if you wish…” Now Guglielmo realizes he is betrayed (wasn’t he just putting the moves on Dorabella?).
He berates “Fior-of-the-devil” to the skies and demands that they find a way to punish both girls severely. Don Alfonso offers the perfect solution: “Just wed them!” Both lovers stomp around refusing, but Don Alfonso notes that they still love their unfaithful sweethearts and advises them to “marry them just as they are. Nature cannot create two women who aren’t human: Così fan futte!”
Despina tells the suitors that the ladies are disposed to marry them and a notary will stipulate a contract. Despina directs the wedding preparations and disappears to return as the monotonal notary. Suddenly, the festivities are interrupted by military music accompanying their (other) financés’ return.
Panic stricken, the girls hide their new husbands and wait to face the returning war heroes (nobody notices they’ve been gone less than a day). A joyous reunion is complicated when Guglielmo discovers the signed marriage contract. After much outraged posturing and pouting, they reveal the zany plot. (For some reason, the girls accept this placidly.)
All declare that Fortune smiles on those who take all things in good humor, and those guided by reason and cheer in life’s adversities always find beauty and calm.
Così fan tutte was composed on a commission from Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II after a successful revival of The Marriage of Figaro in 1789. The libretto was an original story by Lorenzo da Ponte, and was intended for Antonio Salieri (he abandoned it after setting the first two ensembles).
The story’s literary and mythological basis is in the Procris story, in Boccaccio, Shakespeare (Cymbeline) and Cervantes, all of whom used the premise of a wager that leads to a trial of female constancy and potentially to distrust and disaster.
Mozart’s financial worries at the time were pressing. He was to be paid 200 ducats (c. $400) by the Court; he wrote to his friend Puchberg begging for an additional 400 ducats (he sent 300) and invited him and Joseph Haydn to hear a rehearsal on December 31, 1789.
The opera was seen five times between January 26 and February 20, 1790, when Emperor Joseph died (all theatres closed in respect for such occasions).
Five more performances were heard between June and August, after which it started circulating all over Europe, usually in German.
No opera has been readapted more than Così: from 1794 on impresarios and other composers revised the story, which was seen as risqué if not immoral, to their own devices.
Not until the 20th century was Così restored to its original form, its worth recognized and taken seriously for what it was: the perfect Italian Comic Opera, its farcical surface story warmed and humanized by Mozart’s miraculous music.
Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, will be presented Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Waterman Theatre, Tyler Hall, SUNY Oswego.
It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Tickets are on sale in person at all SUNY Oswego box offices, by phone at
315-312-2141, or online at www.oswego.edu/tickets The cost is: Regular $22, Seniors $20, Academic faculty and staff $20, and all students $5.
More information is available by email at [email protected]