An meine drei Damen und meine drei Knaben
Mozart by Lange (1789)
Così fan tutte – ENLIGHTENMENT AND FIDELITY
In November of 1789, Mozart and Constanze returned to Vienna from Prague following the tremendous success of the première of Don Giovanni. Upon his arrival in Vienna, Mozart was named Kapellmeister of the Imperial Court, replacing the deceased Gluck albeit with a less impressive salary –some 800 Gulden per year as compared to the 2,000 paid to Gluck– and obligations less impressive still, he being limited to composing music for court dances.
The Emperor was still abroad on account of the war with the Ottoman Empire, the shock waves from which rippled through the Austrian empire and hit Mozart’s purse hard; inflation took its toll but his personal income also suffered due to dropping attendance at concerts and lower demand for music classes. Mozart stock in this respect was low anyway, since the Viennese aristocracy would never forgive him for satirizing them in Le nozze di Figaro. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that the concerts Mozart had organized for the summer of 1788 for the first public performance of his three latest symphonies – 39, 40 and 41– had to be cancelled due to a lack of sponsorship. In fact, he only found one sponsor: his good friend, Baron von Swieten.
In the summer of 1789, Mozart travelled to Berlin with Prince Lichnowsky, who would become one of Beethoven’s main patrons, with the aim of securing commissions from the King of Prussia, Frederick William II, who was a gifted cellist and amateur composer. Although he was commissioned to compose six string quartets and three piano sonatas, he only completed the three “Prussian” quartets and one sonata. From an economical standpoint the trip was a total disaster, which is not surprising considering that he was travelling with a similar expense account to one of the empire’s richest men.
In January 1789, Joseph II, in financial difficulties due to the war expenses, had decided to disband the Court Theatre Italian Opera Company. However, Lorenzo da Ponte, the Imperial poet, proposed that it be kept going with funding from sponsors. In July of the same year, the Emperor called for a new production of Le nozze di Figaro.
The success of the second Viennese production of Le nozze di Figaro prompted Joseph II to request a new opera of Mozart, who responded with Così fan tutte, once again working with Da Ponte as librettist. This commission was not included in Mozart’s duties as Kapellmeister of the Imperial Court.
Autumn and winter of 1789-1790 were financially unbearable for Mozart. Inflation, the style of life to which the Mozarts had become accustomed in their economic bonanza years (1781-1786) and which, living beyond their means, they continued to enjoy, and Constanze’s delicate health initiated Mozart’s fall into debt. It was during these months that he wrote several gut-wrenching, abject letters to his friend and fellow mason Johann Michael Puchberg, begging for economic help. They moved house three times between 1787 and 1789; at the time of the composition of Così fan tutte, they were living in a modest flat in a house at No.4 Judenplatz.
During autumn of 1789, apart from composing Così fan tutte, Mozart’s artistic output was limited to very few works, but included a masterpiece: the clarinet and string quintet in A major K 581, composed for his friend and fellow mason, Anton Stadler, clarinetist with the Imperial Opera. He also wrote two arias to be included in Martín y Soler’s opera Il burbero di buon cuore and, as Kapellmeister, 12 minuets, 12 German dances and one counterdance to be performed at the Carnival season of 1790.
Very little is known as to how Mozart and Da Ponte chose the plot for Così fan tutte; the fidelity of two sisters is put to the test by their disguised fiancés and found to be wanting. It has been said, with no solid evidence, that it was Joseph II who suggested the plot from something that actually happened in Viennese society. It is interesting to note that Mozart switched his amorous attentions from the more beautiful and talented of the Weber sisters, Aloisia, to Constanze when his suit was rejected. The libretto written by Da Ponte is brilliant, with many classical allusions, and does not have one single moment of weakness. For this opera Da Ponte did not draw from a previously known work, which makes it his most personal creation. However, in the eighteenth century it was true that in drama circles there was nothing new under the sun; we might suggest that the libretto was influenced by the myth of Cephalus and Procris mentioned by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, later used by Ariosto in Orlando Furioso - this source is cited in the libretto. Bocaccio also used this plot in Decameron, as does Shakespeare in Measure for Measure and Cervantes in Don Quijote de la Mancha.
Mozart invited Joseph Haydn and Puchberg to his home to attend a rehearsal with all of the singers on 31 December 1789. In his written invitation to Puchberg, he says that all of Salieri’s intrigues against the opera have been overcome. Rehearsals with the orchestra began on January 21, also with the presence of Haydn and Puchberg. The opera opened with the name Così fan tutte ossia La scuola degli Amanti, conducted by the composer himself in the Vienna Hoftheater on 26 January, 1790, the day before Mozart’s 34th birthday. It was subsequently performed on the 28 and 30 of January, and the 7 and 11 of February.
Hoftheater as seen from Michaelplatz, Vienna
The 20 of February was a date of great significance for Mozart because Joseph II died and his brother, Leopold II, took over the throne. Leopold II did not have the slightest interest in Mozart’s music, although at his coronation as King of Bohemia in Prague, in the space of a week he listened to three of his Masses, a Kyrie, an Ofertorio, Don Giovanni and the première of La clemenza di Tito, K 621. Prague loved Mozart!
Così fan tutte was presented five more times in 1790 in Vienna and then dropped from the repertoire until long after Mozart’s death. On the first of May it played for the first time in Frankfurt, in German. Guardasoni, the Prague impresario, put on performances in Prague and Leipzig in Italian, and in October the work opened in Dresden.
Così fan tutte did not reach the public so quickly as its two predecessors. It was first performed in England, in English, in 1811. It was not performed in the United States until 1922.
Così fan tutte is the most misunderstood and badly interpreted of Mozart’s operas. Although the quality of its music, as fine as that of Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, was never questioned, many people considered the plot immoral and found it to be full of illogical, impossible situations. Having lived in Mexico since 1949, I have learned that nothing is impossible and that Aristotelian logic is characteristic of few, very few, human beings. The French Revolution was initially feminist and the Romantic nineteenth century was precisely that: Romantic; a sense of humor was a rare quality. The libretto was modified, altered, and even rewritten. It was anathema to the Victorian epoch.
In 1900, Mahler returned to the original form of Così fan tutte in Vienna. In 1910, Thomas Beecham followed his example in England, and in Germany Richard Strauss made this great Mozart opera shine once again. It was presented at the first Glyndebourne Festival in 1934. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that Così fan tutte reclaimed the place it so rightly deserved alongside Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.
Mozart knew the singers in the first production of Così fan tutte very well; all were of the highest standard and very familiar with the composer’s style.
Ferrando, a handsome, young officer of the Neapolitan nobility is Dorabella’s fiancé. Mozart assigned a tenor to this role; the only principal part for a tenor in his mature opere buffe. All of the characters sing two arias, except for Ferrando who has three. The first Ferrando was Vincenzo Calvesi, who had only just joined the Imperial Opera. With Calvesi in mind, Mozart had composed in 1785 the quartet Dite almeno, K 479, and the trio Mandina amabile, K 480 for inclusion in Francesco Bianchi’s opera La villanela rapita.
Guglielmo, a friend of Ferrando’s and also an officer and a noble, is engaged to Dorabella’s sister, Fiordiligi. The dramatic importance of this character is similar to Ferrando, and although he has one aria less, he has the same quality and specific weight. This part is sung by a bass. Francesco Benucci, one of Mozart’s favorite singers, was the first to play the part; he had also been the first Figaro and the first Leporello in Vienna. With Benucci in mind, Mozart had composed the aria Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K 584, which was originally intended to be included in Così fan tutte, but was replaced at the last moment for reasons which will shortly be explained.
Don Alfonso, a mature man of the world and devout bachelor –an old philosopher according to the original libretto– is the cynical schemer who sets off the development of a comedy that could well become a tragedy. He appears in virtually all of the ensemble numbers, except the lovers’ duets, but his interventions as a soloist, one of which is called aria in the score, are very brief. Generally speaking, his melodic line is very dry, although of great importance from a harmonic point of view. The first Alfonso was Francesco Bussani, the oldest and most experienced of all the Mozartean singers, who had been the first to play the parts of Bartolo and Antonio in Le nozze di Figaro, and Masseto and Il Comendatore in Vienna’s Don Giovanni. Don Alfonso’s dry melodic line is probably due to the fact that by 1790 Bussani’s best years as a singer were over, although he was a very fine actor. In the score Guglielmo is a deeper bass than Don Alfonso, although in practice it is usually the other way around probably because Benucci was Figaro and Bussani played Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, in which the timbre of their voices was inverted.
It is the ladies in Così fan tutte who get to sing exceptional music. Fiordiligi, fleur-de-lis, flower of loyalty, is very young and beautiful. She comes from Ferrara and is engaged to be married to Guglielmo. Her psychology is the most developed of all the characters in the opera. Her interventions as a soloist are fitting of opera seria, which is another touch of irony on Mozart’s part. Her two arias are beautiful and extremely difficult; the second is one of the most expressive pieces ever written. This role was first brought to life by Adriana Gabrielli del Bene “La Ferrarese” who had sung Susanna in the second Viennese production of Le nozze di Figaro. Da Ponte’s current mistress, she was not liked by Mozart, who composed for Fiordiligi arias demanding the complete use of a wide register of more than two octaves such as that possessed by “la Ferrarese”. In fact, he made her leap intervals of 13 to 15 tones on many occasions either to pay a compliment to her vocal expertise or to make fun of her antics and gestures when performing such jumps.
Dorabella, Ferrando’s fiancé is just as beautiful as her sister and even younger. She is the merrier of the two and it is obvious that her role strikes a chord with the composer. She is the first to make passionate claims to fidelity and also the first to play false, despite which she is always dealt with most tenderly by Mozart. The first Dorabella was Luisa Villenueve, who some people claim was real-life sister of “La Ferrarese” and for whom Mozart, in September of 1790, had composed the beautiful aria Alma grande e nobil cuore, K 578, for inclusion in the opera I due baroni by Domenico Cimarosa, and the previously mentioned ensembles for Il burbero di buon cuore. The role of Dorabella is also for a soprano, though it is often sung by mezzo-sopranos.
Despina, the chambermaid of the sisters from Ferrara, is the only character in the opera who is not of noble birth. As noted by William Mann, Mozart takes her out of the same drawer where he found Susanna, the most intelligent, and Zerlina, the most tender, and that is marked “Colombina”. She is the typical Mozartean soubrette who thinks that she is smarter than she actually is, but who in the run of events shows astonishing natural wisdom. Along with the four lovers, she is manipulated by the whims of Don Alfonso. The first Despina was Dorotea Bussani, who had created Cherubino in 1786.
In Così fan tutte Mozart uses pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings. Given the military characteristics of the male protagonists, the trumpets and timpani are frequently to be heard. As always, Mozart makes exceptionally beautiful use of wind instruments. In no other work does the composer create such a rich musical texture, sometimes silencing the strings, sometimes the wind section; on occasions the horns have a pastoral quality, on others they are sarcastic. The orchestration of Così fan tutte is a master class in the use of instruments to express a wide variety of feelings and to produce the most beautiful harmonies.
Mozart entered Così fan tutte into his personal catalogue on January 24, 1790, the date he is supposed to have finished the overture, as was his custom one or two days before the night of the first performance.
As in Don Giovanni, the beginning of the Overtura is andante, but now in C major, and at the end a musical theme is stated which reappears later in No.30, in which the three men sing ‘Così fan tutte’. Another recurrent theme is in the climax of the presto section when the whole orchestra picks up the speed of the overture; at the beginning of this section, in bar 35, reappears the melody sung by Basilio in the first terzetto of Le nozze di Figaro when, mocking Susanna, he sings prophetically ‘Così fan tutte le belle’. The main key of the opera is C major, a very natural key for Mozart and which he used, among other works, in Piano concert No.21, K 467 and in the Jupiter Symphony, K 551. The overture has a sonata form, in which the main theme is stated immediately, followed by variations and resolved in the most classical way possible: a great overture for a great opera.
The opera takes place in eighteenth-century Naples, and like Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, we assume, there being no specific note on the point neither in the libretto nor in the score that the action occurs in the space of a single day.
The first act begins in a cafeteria just after breakfast at which Alfonso has been convincing Ferrando and Guglielmo that all women, including their fiancées, are by their very nature unfaithful.
Ferrando and Guglielmo start a Terzetto in G major, allegro with oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.1 'La mia Dorabella capace non è’ (My Dorabella is incapable), in which they defend the fidelity of their fiancées, likening their virtue to their beauty. Alfonso answers that his opinions are based on his age and experience. The officers, irritated by the insinuations of the old philosopher, challenge him to a duel unless he can prove what he says.
The soldiers insist that Alfonso provide proof of his assertions or face them in a duel. The worldly man answers that the only duels that interest him take place on a table. He reaffirms his opinion and takes up the Terzetto again, now in E major, an unusual key for Mozart but relevant to Così fan tutte, with one flute, a bassoon and strings in which he says that the fidelity of women is like the Phoenix; everyone claims it exists, but no-one has seen it, No.2 ‘È la fede delle femmine come l’arabia fenice’. The young men claim that Dorabella and Fiordiligi are the Phoenix.
Alfonso asks them why they are so bent on believing in the sisters’ fidelity, to which they reply because the girls have good manners, they have made declarations and promises, because of their characters and their noble birth. The man of the world tells them not to make him laugh and that furthermore, he will bet them 100 zecchini each –equivalent to 100 Viennese ducats: Mozart’s fee for a subscription concert– that he can prove his point. The bet is accepted and Alfonso imposes two conditions: that they must not say a word to their Penelopes and that they must follow his indications to the letter. The Terzetto starts up again, now in C major, the main key of the opera, with oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and strings, No.3 ‘Una bella serenata’, in which Ferrando says that with his winnings he will give his Goddess a serenade, and Guglielmo a banquet for his Citerea. Alfonso wonders if he will be invited to which both reply of course, since he will be paying for it. They all exit, the soldiers stroll to their fiancées’ house and Alfonso makes for the harbor to make arrangements, we suppose.
The previous scene with three terzetti –or one fairly long one, 192 bars in total, divided into three fragments? – is dramatically very original, since from the outset we know the whole story and need only wait to see what happens at the end.
Now we are in the garden of the sisters’ house on the Tirreno coast. Both are wearing lockets around their necks and they are gazing in fascination at the miniature likenesses of their fiancés inside. They discuss the good points of their respective fiancés and say that should they switch their affections, Love (Cupid) will make them live in suffering in a Duetto, andante-allegro in the sensual A major with clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.4 ‘Ah, guarda sorella’ (Oh, look sister). This is a very beautiful duet in which both characters take turns singing a florid melody, and in which both take turns holding a note for the space of eight bars while the other carries the melody. It is normally performed to a 3/4 beat even though the score indicates clearly that it should be 3/8, which would be more natural for the duetto. During the first act, Mozart has Dorabella sing a higher melody than Fiordiligi, ironically confusing the two characters.
The two girls are feeling very happy. Fiordiligi goes so far as to say that she feels slightly crazy and asks to read Dorabella´s palm, where she finds an M and a P, which she interprets as matrimonio presto (early wedding). They comment that their fiancés should have arrived since the clock has already struck six – midday on some six-hour eighteenth-century clock; decent folk were not awake at six o’clock in the morning in the eighteenth century; nor are they nowadays.
Don Alfonso arrives instead of the girls’ fiancés looking extremely worried, and in his first solo tells them that he has bad news; this is a very short Aria in F minor, Barbarina’s key, not that of Il Commendatore’s death, allegro agitato accompanied by strings alone, but with divided violas, No.5 ‘Vorrei dir, e cor non ho’ (I’d like to tell you, but I haven’t got the heart). Without really saying anything, he keeps them in suspense. He tells them that their fiancés have not been killed or injured, but they have been called away to the front, which was a very common occurrence in Vienna in that epoch because of the war with the Ottoman Empire.
Alfonso says that Ferrando and Guglielmo have come to say goodbye and calls to them, whereupon they enter in battle dress. Guglielmo begins a Quintetto, No.6 ‘Sento, oh Dio’ (I hear, my Lord), in E flat major for emotional conflict, andante with clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings. The girls ask them, since they are going away, to kill them first, which delights the officers and they look knowingly at Alfonso.
Ferrando and Guglielmo attempt to console the sisters, who can think of nothing but suicide and death. The officers express their sympathy in a Duettino, in B flat major, andante with the same instrumentation, but with divided violas, No.7 ‘Al fatto dan legge’ (Destiny is dictated), in which they beg their fiancées to calm down and express their hope of returning soon. For reasons of which I am unaware, this duettino was usually omitted until as late as 1970. It is true that it has no dramatic significance, but it is exceptionally beautiful, and musically announces Mozart’s following opera, Die Zauberflöte (the priests’ duet), and for this reason alone I feel it should not be left out.
Alfonso is very amused to hear the music of a marching band approaching. A ship carrying some soldiers comes in, and men and women from the town arrive on foot singing a Coro in which they celebrate the wonders of military life in a magnificent maestoso D major accompanied by the full orchestra, No.8 ‘Bella vita militar!’ (Wonderful military life!).
Alfonso says that they must leave since their regiment has already set off and they must catch up with it at the ship. The soldiers embrace their fiancées, who are unable to shake off their sadness, and they sing another Quintetto, andante in F major, like Donna Anna’s ‘No mi dir’ –not the one of the plebeian challenge– with clarinets, bassoons and strings, in which they leave, promising to write every day – twice a day implores Dorabella. The girls beg them to be faithful to them and Alfonso can barely control his laughter, No.9 ‘Di scrivermi ogni giorno’ (Write to me every day). This is a marvelous farewell scene, in which we realize how important Don Alfonso is to the comic aspects of the opera. The Coro is repeated as Ferrando and Guglielmo board the ship and leave. Fiordiligi’s first musical phrase in this quintetto was later reused by Mozart in Ave Verum, K 618, his last complete, religious work.
Fiordiligi and Dorabella are left alone with Don Alfonso, who tells them look at their fiancés waving goodbye with their handkerchiefs. The distraught maidens implore the gods to protect them on the battlefield and with Don Alfonso sing a Terzettino in E major with flutes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, with no indication of tempo in the score but usually played andante, in which they pray for a gentle breeze to calm the seas and for all of the elements to protect the soldiers, No.10 ‘Soave sia il vento’ (May the breeze be gentle). This terzettino is one of the magical moments created by Mozart in Cosi fan tutte.
The sisters exit and Alfonso, alone on stage, compliments himself on his fine acting saying that the champions of Ciprigna and Mars await him for new instructions and that the girls’ exaggerated behavior is an indication that they will give in to temptation more easily than expected. He ends, accompanied by strings, with a quotation referring to those who place their hopes in women. The origin of this quotation, in inverted commas in the original libretto, was not identified for almost two hundred years; recently Bruce Alan Brown affirmed it is as a quote from the Renaissance poet Jacopo Sannazaro. Don Alfonso leaves the stage.
The two first scenes of Act I have now finished, and have been dominated by ensemble numbers, with just one, very short aria. In the following scenes, Mozart uses arias to describe the personality of each of the characters, and includes three wonderful ensemble numbers. This gives the overall composition of the opera wonderful balance. As in his other collaborations with Da Ponte, the ensemble numbers are of paramount importance, both musically and dramatically.
The scene changes to the living room in the sisters’ house, furnished with chairs and a little table. There are three doors leading into the room, one on each side and one at the back of the stage. Despina - the little despot - the only character who has not thus far appeared, is sitting down beating chocolate for the ladies’ lunch - the libretto says collazione, not picola collazione; anyway, if it were breakfast, the preceding action would have taken place at a very odd hour of the day! She complains that she has to beat the chocolate and cannot drink it, and just as her mistresses enter, she takes a little sip.
Despina offers the ladies lunch but Dorabella throws the tray onto the floor. Both of the young women tear off their jewelry and look for a way to commit suicide. Dorabella, in a Recitativo accompagnato orders Despina to close the shutters and to leave them alone with their sorrow. Dorabella continues to develop her dark thoughts in her first – and, in fact, the opera’s first formal – Aria, allegro agitato, in E flat major –yes, she is emotional! – to the accompaniment of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.11 ‘Smanie implacabili’ (Relentless pain). In this aria, whose text and musical style are worthy of any opera seria, Dorabella implores that her agony cease or she will die. She promises the Eumenides, if she should survive, that she would give them an example of the agony of love. This aria is extraordinarily beautiful and, as indicated by its tempo, very agitated. Detractors of Così fan tutte have objected that an aria such as this should not have been given to a vain character like Dorabella. What they should have considered is the sublime irony of giving Dorabella, never a vain woman in Mozart’s eyes, an aria worthy of Elettra.
Despina, who had kept well clear of her ranting mistresses, asks the nature of the problem and when informed, tells them not to worry, that surely the men will have a lot of fun on the battlefield. When they object to Despina’s comments about the infidelities of soldiers, she bursts into laughter at their naiveté and launches into an Aria in F major, now the key of defiance between social classes, allegretto with one flute, an oboe, a bassoon and strings, in which she tells them not to believe in men, far less in soldiers, and that women should only fall in love as a means of having fun, No.12 ‘In uomini, in soldati’ (In men, in soldiers). Despina is far lighter than Mozart’s other soubrettes. Naturally, the sisters storm furiously off the stage to their rooms and Despina also retires to hers.
Don Alfonso enters, saying how much he likes the sisters, and that he is worried about Despina, who will be able to identify the fiancés who will shortly arrive in disguise. To ensure her complicity he gives her a gold coin and promises another if everything goes well. Despina says that as long as they are rich and handsome, especially rich, everything will go according to plan.
Alfonso calls in the soldiers, disguised we are later to discover as Albanians, and they start a wonderful Sestetto in C major, allegro, at first accompanied only by strings, and later joined by oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and timpani, No.13 ‘Alla bella Despinetta’, in which the men are introduced to the chambermaid who not only fails to recognize them, but calls them the antidote to love since, among other defects – not to put too fine a point on it– they have singular faces. The three men say that if Despina did not recognize them, then nobody will. Having heard someone in the house, the sisters enter in indignation. Alfonso, enjoying the moment, hides and the girls order Despina to show the strangers to the door. She replies that the men are in love with them because they are so beautiful. Fiordiligi and Dorabella, the music picking up speed to molto allegro, feel betrayed and become even more outraged, expressing their anger so comically that Alfonso – hidden– and Despina say aside that they do not believe their professed rage and fury, while the soldiers express delight at their own interpretation of the girls’ behavior. This truly marvelous sestetto could forewarn us of a finale alla napolitana; the plot, however, thickens.
Alfonso comes out of his hiding place asking what all of the noise is about. The sisters retort that only to the presence of strange men in the house on such an ill-fated day. Alfonso identifies the men as two of his best friends who, in a recitativo accompagnato, confess that Cupid drew them to this house. Dorabella expresses disbelief and asks her sister what they should do.
Fiordiligi, in Recitativo accompagnato, orders them to leave –the only who actually does so is Despina– since she will be faithful to her loved one until death if need be. She then sings her first Aria No.14, ‘Come scoglio’ (Like a stone), accompanied by oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and strings, andante maestoso- maestoso- più allegro in B flat major, in which she maintains that she will be like a rock, immovable though battered by winds and storms because her soul is strong in love and constancy, and only death might change her heart’s desire, so the two men need have not even the wildest hope before this example of fidelity. ‘Come scoglio’ is the opera’s most difficult piece, demanding of the singer complete vocal control when faced with monstrous leaps of up to 15 tones, from a’ to b’’ during the andante maestoso, in which the trumpets add a touch of liturgical solemnity. One must appreciate the comical aspect of this aria, especially in the più allegro.
When this aria ends, the sisters attempt to leave, but the “love-stricken” men, supported by Don Alfonso, beg them to stay. “For what reason?” Dorabella wants to know. “To open your hearts to our words of love,” answers Guglielmo, who then sings his aria.
Mozart wrote two arias for this moment; the first originally composed for Benucci No15a ‘Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo’ (Turn your eyes on him), and entered separately in his catalogue, was not sung on the opening night probably because of its length, 192 bars, or because the language used by Da Ponte is too sophisticated for a soldier since the text is loaded with classical allusions. It is very beautiful, more expressive than melodic, written in D major for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, strings and timpani. I doubt that Benucci was happy with the change, not because of the quality of the aria he was actually required to sing, but rather because he did not get the opportunity to perform this beautiful piece. In place of this first Aria, Mozart included a second, this time more melodic than expressive, No.15 ‘Non siati ritrosi’ (Do not be reticent), andantino in G major for strings, a flute and a bassoon, in which Guglielmo asks the sisters to take a good look at them with their beautiful eyes; strong, handsome, with “touchable” feet, eyes, noses, and moustaches, the symbol of manhood, the plumage of love. When he finishes, the girls exit and he and Ferrando begin laughing and sing a Terzetto with Don Alfonso No.16 ‘E voi ridete?’ with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings in G major. The old philosopher asks why the laughter, to which the “Albanians” reply that it is their fiancée’s fidelity that has made them happy. Afonso starts laughing because, from his point of view, the outcome will be very different from what they expect and their laughter will become tears.
The soldiers offer to call the bet off if Don Alfonso pays them half, or a quarter, now. Naturally, he turns them down and asks them to say nothing of the farce until the following day. Guglielmo is hungry, but Ferrando in an aria tells him that for the moment they will be nourished by love. This Aria, No.17 ‘Un aura amorosa’ (A loving breath), andante cantabile in the sensual A major for clarinets, one bassoon, horns and strings, is yet another of the extraordinarily beautiful musical moments that Mozart created in this opera. At the end of the aria the soldiers leave the stage.
Don Alfonso, alone, has doubts about the success of the experiment, but Despina enters and tells him to leave it to her, that she is sure that the fairer sex is more in search of fun and pleasure than love. This statement obviously offended the exalted Romanticism of the nineteenth century.
The scene changes to a corner of the garden that does not have a view of the sea.
Fiordiligi and Dorabella had exited after ‘Non siati ritrosi’ and by now have calmed down. The Finale of the first act begins, No.18, ‘Ah, che tutta in un momento’ (Everything at the same time). The sisters start the finale off with a duetto in D major to the accompaniment of flutes, bassoons, horns and strings, in which they express their pain to the beautiful and gentle andante tempo. The key changes to G minor, very personal for Mozart, at once loaded with threat and tension. When the oboes and trumpets join the fray, the soldiers reappear and, in full view of their fiancées, pretend to commit suicide with arsenic, since the cruel women have not shown the slightest inclination to listen to their pleas of love, ‘Si mora, si mora’. The piece becomes a quintetto when Don Alfonso asks the sisters to take pity on them, since they look comatose, ‘Già a che morir vicini’ (Since they are near death), and the clarinets join in, now in E flat major, for a brief moment. The girls call Despina for help. She comes in response to their cries and immediately diagnoses imminent death; of course, the chambermaid is brimming over with advice and exits with Don Alfonso in search of a doctor.
The two couples, the hunters and the hunted, remain on stage and in a quartetto, or more accurately two duets, now in C minor, the girls express their feelings about the ill-fated events of the day, ‘Dei, che cimento è questo’ (Dear God, what problems), and the men about how amusing the situation is, ‘Più bella commediola’ (What a beautiful little comedy). Dorabella draws close and touches Guglielmo’s forehead –cold, in her opinion– while Fiordiligi cannot find Ferrando’s pulse. This section ends with a lovely quartet over a texture of clarinets in which the girls tell the men that their death will make them weep, ‘Poverini! La lor morte’, whereupon the men express the hope that the girls’ tenderness towards them on their death bed might well turn into love, ‘Più domestiche e trattabile’.
To music in G major, allegro, Don Alfonso enters with the doctor, ‘Eccovi il medico’, who is in fact Despina in disguise, ‘Despina in maschera’, sing Ferrando and Guglielmo.
Despina, putting on a voice, greets everyone in pseudo-Latin, and when the sisters object that they don’t understand, she replies that she can speak any language. Alfonso says that her linguistic abilities are unimportant because what really matters is saving the lives of the two men who have poisoned themselves. Despina asks the sisters to support the heads of the dying men so that she might effect a cure using the world-famous magnetism technique –alluding to Mesmer, a good friend of the Mozarts. When she touches them with a magnetized stone, the Albanians go into convulsions and “recover”, which provokes exclamations from Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Don Alfonso that ‘Ah, questo medico vale un Perù’.
The music modulates to B flat major, andante, when Ferrando and Guglielmo rise feeling as if they are on Olympus, being tended to by Pallas Atenea and Venus Citerea in person, ‘Sei tu Palla o Citerea’, whose hands they kiss. Don Alfonso and Despina say –to Pallas and Venus– not to worry, that these are the effects of arsenic poisoning, ‘Son effeti ancor del tosco’, while Atenea and Citerea are worried about appearances, ‘Sarà ver, ma tante smorfie’ (It may be true, but such liberties). They sing a sestetto –three duets– in which the sisters find it difficult to turn down a kiss. Alfonso and Despina say that the effects of the poisoning will pass, and the soldiers can hardly suppress their laughter. When the music accelerates again to allegro, Ferrando and Guglielmo ask for a kiss, which provokes a horrified outburst from Fiordiligi and Dorabella, ‘Stelle, un baccio?!’. The act ends with the furious exit of the goddesses, two laughing soldiers, and Don Alfonso and Despina wondering how things will turn out.
The first scene of the second act opens in the same way as the third act of Le nozze di Figaro: in recitativo secco. The action takes place in Fiordiligi and Dorabella’s dressing room where Despina, while helping them to change their clothes, tells them that they are being very hard on themselves, that what really matters are lovers, not love, and that they should do what the army does: recruit. The sisters are now willing to receive the strangers, but Fiordiligi is still concerned of appearances, and she asks Despina what they should do. Despina replies in an Aria that a woman should know all about the art of love from the age of fifteen, No.19 ‘Una donna a quindici anni’ (A woman at the age of fifteen), in G major accompanied by a flute, a bassoon, horns and strings, which begins andante and builds up to allegretto when she says that they should listen to a hundred but speak to a thousand with their eyes. Despina leaves the stage.
Alone, Fiordiligi and Dorabella comment that they do not have to worry about Despina criticizing them. Fiordiligi is willing to speak to the strangers; Dorabella has already made her choice. They sing a Duetto in B flat major, No.20 ‘Prenderò quel brunettino’ (I’ll take the dark-skinned one), andante for oboes, bassoons, horns and strings in which Dorabella says that she likes the darker-skinned of the two, Guglielmo, while Fiordiligi agrees to banter with the other, Ferrando. Both, of course, claim that in no way does flirting imply a change in their affections.
Don Alfonso interrupts telling them to hurry out to the garden where there is a nice surprise for them. Everyone leaves the dressing room –there can be no doubt that Don Alfonso is a trusted friend in Pallas and Citerea’s house. They reappear in the same part of the garden as the second scene of the first act, at the seaside, but now there are two stone tables and a boat decorated with flowers at the shore.
Ferrando and Guglielmo are on the boat with a few seamen. Despina is in the garden and there are some servants on the seashore. They sing a marvelous Duetto con Coro, accompanied by clarinets, bassoons and horns –and flutes with the choir– andante in E flat major, in which they ask the breeze to carry their thoughts of love, No.21 ‘Secondate aurette, amiche’ (Help us, friendly breezes). When the choir repeats the first line, Ferrando and Guglielmo disembark carrying chains of flowers. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are at a loss for words. William Mann has called this serenade a heavenly moment.
The servants lay flowers at the sisters’ feet and return to the boat that sets sail immediately. Don Alfonso encourages the Albanians to speak but, feigning embarrassment, they cannot find the words, which prompt him to tell Despina to show them what to do. They sing a Quartetto in D major for flutes, bassoons, trumpets and strings, allegretto grazioso with an allegro section, in which Despina and Alfonso encourage the two couples to speak to each other, No.22 ‘La manor a me date’. The trumpets, played smoothly and lightly, give this number a lively, expressive quality. Alfonso speaks to the soldiers who, albeit unenthusiastically, repeat his words; Despina does the same for the sisters. Having sung the quartetto, Despina and Alfonso exit, leaving the four young people alone. This scene is indeed La scuola degli amanti.
The next scene, in recitativo secco, is vitally important, and if the singers are not also excellent actors, it may have unfortunate repercussions on the quality of the performance as a whole.
Sitting side by side, Dorabella takes Guglielmo’s arm and Fiordiligi sits next to Ferrando, but without touching him; they look into each other’s eyes. The men sigh deeply until Fiordiligi breaks the ice talking about the weather, which seems very warm to Ferrando. Dorabella mentions the bushes; Guglielmo thinks they have few flowers. Fiordiligi suggests taking a stroll, and Ferrando complies. As he is leaving with her, he whispers to Guglielmo that this is the moment of truth.
Guglielmo and Dorabella are left alone. Tension builds to a basso continuo, and after several phrases, Guglielmo, against his better instincts, offers her the heart-shaped locket he has around his neck. She accepts graciously, which prompts Guglielmo to make an aside: ‘Infelice Ferrando!’ Guglielmo starts a Duetto in F major for clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, andante grazioso, in which he tells her that she has to exchange her heart for his, No.23 ‘Il core vi dono’ (I give you my heart). She replies that hers has already been given, but Guglielmo, striking his chest, makes her say that her heart belongs to him and he exchanges the locket with Ferrando’s image for another containing his own. As they exit in each other’s arms, she says that she feels like Vesuvius, which could be painted at the back of the stage.
Fiordiligi and Ferrando enter hurriedly and in a recitativo accompagnato she says that she has seen an asp, a hydra, a basilisk. Ferrando understands that she is referring to him, and he refuses to leave when she asks him to, unless she will see him and sigh for him. Feeling very happy – lietissimo as noted in the score– he sings a beautiful Aria, rondò at the beginning in B flat major, allegretto – allegro for clarinets, one bassoon, trumpets and strings – obviously the horns are silent and they shine by their absence– in which he tells her that he realizes that although she is attracted to him, she cannot betray her heart and this has condemned him to death, No.24 ‘Ah lo veggio’ (Oh, I see). After the dress rehearsal, Mozart indicated in the score that they might leave this aria out, probably because it was very challenging for the tenor due to it having been written in a very high tessitura, which is why it was usually omitted. Less commonly, the cavatina No.27 is also not sung. Fortunately, since 1972 it has been the custom to include both of these pieces.
Fiordiligi, in a recitativo accompagnato, asks Ferrando not to leave, but he does not hear her and exits. She remains alone and reveals her feelings of guilt at having exchanged her virtuous love for another. Another of the opera’s heavenly moments is the Rondò in E major which Fiordiligi now sings, adagio at the start, accelerating to allegro moderato, to the accompaniment of flutes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings. She expresses powerful conflicting emotions through the beautiful poetry of the text, No.25 ‘Per pietà, ben mio’ (For pity’s sake, my love). In this rondò Mozart composed an unforgettable piece, in which he shows us the love he feels for his characters by enveloping Fiordiligi’s grief in such extraordinary musical language. In one passage the horns and a bassoon, simulating a third horn, play the harmonies; an effect that Beethoven would use with a very similar melody in the main aria of Leonore in Fidelio, although with two clarinets and a bassoon. This aria, like the one in the first act, makes great demands of the soprano’s vocal range.
Ferrando and Guglielmo appear on stage after Fiordiligi’s exit. Ferrando is still very happy and he tells Guglielmo that Fiordiligi is an example of perseverance. Guglielmo, on the contrary, shows his friend the locket with his image. Ferrando is embittered by his loved-one’s betrayal in the space of less than twenty-four hours. Guglielmo does not honor his friendship with Ferrando by telling him not to lament the loss of a worthless woman’s love, and he begins his second Aria to a chord in D major which modulates to G major, allegretto, accompanied by the full orchestra without clarinets, No.26 ‘Donne mie, la fate tanti’ (My ladies, you do this to so many), in which he vents his bitterness towards women, similar to Figaro’s feelings in ‘Aprite un pò’, although paradoxically he seems proud of his conquest.
Ferrando, alone on stage, gives vent to his irritation with himself and with Don Alfonso, who has already won half of the bet, and to his desire for revenge. In the Cavatina he sings at this point, in C minor at first, then modulating to C major, he claims that in spite of having been betrayed, he still loves Dorabella, No.27 ‘Tradito, schernito’ (Betrayed, rejected). The cavatina is scored for oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings and the music of the wind section, which accompanies Ferrando, would soothe many a grieving soul. Don Alfonso, who has been listening, enters and congratulates him on his constancy and says that he has not yet finished with Guglielmo and Fiordiligi. Guglielmo enters, and Alfonso asks them both to keep their promise for a few hours more. All exit.
The scene moves to another room in the sisters’ house, with a table, a mirror and doors. Despina congratulates Dorabella for having behaved like woman of the world, and commiserates with Fiordiligi because of her long face. Fiordiligi confesses that she is in love with the stranger, but she still feels sorry for her soldier. Dorabella says that they will probably be injured or killed on the campaign, and that when and if they return, the sisters will be far away married. Fiordiligi still has reservations, but her sister implores her to respect Cupid’s will in an Aria in B flat major, allegretto vivace for one flute, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.28 ‘È Amore un ladroncello’ (Cupid is a thief). The wind section is also predominant in this aria. Having finished singing, Dorabella exits with Despina and leaves Fiordiligi alone.
As in the fourth act of Le nozze di Figaro, we have been treated to five arias in a row –or four if one of them has been omitted– which might lead us to suspect a certain immobility on the part of the characters or the dramatic action, but this is not the case. Mozart has once again painted a masterful, musical portrait of each of the characters’ personalities: Fiordiligi emotional and dramatic, Dorabella charming, Ferrando passionate, and Guglielmo sanguine and the most comical of all. In so doing, he has given humanity at least three arias which will definitely belong to its artistic patrimony for all time.
It is very interesting how Dorabella, in the space of just a few hours, has gone from offering her pain to the Furies to revealing her true self. For Fiordiligi, change is not so easy. She decides to convince Dorabella to disguise themselves in their fiancés clothes and to join them at the battlefront – it makes one wonder why the soldiers kept a change of clothes at the sisters’ house. She is about to put on Ferrando’s outfit, which seems to fit her well, when Ferrando himself enters. Guglielmo and Alfonso keep a close watch on proceedings through a niche. They sing a Duetto in a sensual, almost erotic A major, adagio-allegro-larghetto-andante, for oboes, bassoons, horns! and strings, in which he renews his attentions. Fiordiligi finally accedes in a most comical fashion. They finish by singing about mutual love and leave the stage together, No.29 ‘Fra gli amplessi’ (Between embraces).
Guglielmo is even more furious than Ferrando, who has now returned to the stage, and Alfonso tells them that to punish the girls they should marry them that very night. The soldiers object, but they are still under oath and so agree to prolong the farce. The old philosopher restates his theory about female nature in an andante for strings, No.30 ‘Tutti accusan le donne’ (Everyone accuses women), at the end of which he asks Guglielmo and Ferrando to repeat with him ‘Così fan tutte’ (That’s what all women do), to the theme we heard at the beginning of the overture. Despina enters bringing the news that the sisters are willing to marry them and says that she has already sent for the notary public to conduct the ceremony. Guglielmo and Ferrando proclaim their feigned happiness and Despina boasts that she her schemes always bear fruit.
The scene changes to a very well decorated, brightly lit room with a table set for four, an orchestra in the background, and four elaborately dressed servants. In this case the orchestra is simply part of the scenery; unlike those in Don Giovanni, it does not perform any music.
Despina enters with servants and musicians and goes straight over to Don Alfonso. They strike up the Finale, No.31 ‘Fate presto, o cari amici’ (Make haste, dear friends), allegro assai in C major for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and strings, in which Despina gives instructions for everything to be made ready for the ceremony, the choir of servants and musicians repeat the instructions and Alfonso indicates his approval. Alfonso and Despina exit through different doors commenting that what is about to take place should be a most enjoyable comedy. The music modulates to andante in E flat major, here showing solemnity, and clarinets and horns herald the entrance of the two couples: Fiordiligi with Guglielmo and Dorabella with Ferrando. The choir welcomes them, ‘Benedetti I doppi conjugi’ (Blessed be the couples). The chorus ends and, in two duets, the brides and grooms sing a quartetto in which they thank Despina for her intervention in such a happy event. The choir joins in, interrupting the happy couples.
A toast is called for, larghetto for strings alone at the beginning. Fiordiligi sings first, ‘È nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero’ (In your glass and in mine), asking that all thoughts and memories of the past be drowned in their glasses. Ferrando takes up the melody and Dorabella follows suit. When Guglielmo also joins in, to the added accompaniment of clarinets, bassoons and horns, he discovers that he is out of time –intentional on the part of Mozart – this is natural since he is the only one who is still feeling bitter not only about losing the bet, but also in all probability the respect of their loved ones. This particular passage from the quartet, in an exceedingly odd A flat major, is something to be marveled at, and if well produced, the singers become celestial beings. Beethoven used the same musical structure in Fidelio and at the end of his Ninth symphony, which actually has a very similar melody. If Beethoven saw God at the end of the Ninth, Mozart undoubtedly chatted with him in this toast.
The music is in E major, allegro, and flutes join in with the entrance of Don Alfonso and Despina disguised as the notary. Alfonso announces that everything is ready for the wedding and the two couples applaud. Despina, coughing and putting on another voice, reads the details of the marriage contract, of which the only legitimate part is the fact that Dorabella is Fiordilgi’s ‘legitima sorella’. Only the girls sign the contract, and as they do so the musical theme ‘Bella vita militar’, maestoso as before, is heard once again.
The sisters do not associate the music with Ferrando and Guglielmo, and Don Alfonso, picking up the contract for safekeeping, goes out to investigate. He returns in panic, the music allegro, to announce that the soldiers have returned. The servants and musicians exit, Alfonso shows Despina out through one door, and out through another go the two Albanians, whose names, Tizio and Sempronio –an Italian idiom for a pair of so-and-sos– we have just learned from Beccavivi, the name chosen by Despina for herself in her guise of notary public. The sisters remain in rather a troubled state of mind. Alfonso begs them to place their trust in him for the resolution of any problems.
Ferrando and Guglielmo enter as themselves, the music andante in B flat major. Alfonso pretends to be surprised and pleased. The soldiers explain that their orders were changed and that they have returned safe and sound to their loved ones. Who is that man in hiding back there: a notary? Despina reveals herself and explains her costume by saying that she has been at a fancy dress party, the tempo of the music con più moto. Palas and Venus have the impression that all is not quite as it seems. Ferrando picks up a document that Alfonso has dropped and Guglielmo sees that it is a marriage contract. Betrayal, they exclaim, allegro in G flat major, and out for blood they head for the room concealing the Albanians. Fiordiligi and Dorabella stop them, andante in a somber C minor, confessing their guilt and begging Alfonso and Alfonso to speak in their defense. Alfonso terrifies the girls by saying that the proof is to be found in the room where they believe Tizio and Sempronio to be hiding.
The soldiers exit and come back wearing part of their disguise. To the accompaniment of an allegretto tempo, Ferrando greets Fiordiligi cheekily with a theme from the sextet in the first act, ‘A voi s’inchina bella damina il Cavaliere dell’Albania!’ (The gentleman from Albania bows down before you, my beautiful lady), Guglielmo returns the locket containing Ferrando’s likeness to Dorabella, and both salute the irresistible doctor, all the time using their put-on voices and mannerisms. Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Despina, who is worried about losing her position and huffy at not having been party to the whole scheme, express their astonishment at the ruse. The sisters ask Don Alfonso for an explanation and he, andante con moto in D major, explains how he tricked them in order to open their fiancés eyes and to make them a little wiser. He tells them to embrace each other and laugh about it, for he certainly has.
The sisters beg forgiveness –the men should, too– which is immediately granted. The opera ends with a sestetto in C major for the full orchestra. Everyone agrees that the person who is able to laugh where others would cry is fortunate indeed, ‘Fortunato l’uom che prende’ (It is a fortunate man who understands).
Così fan tutte is the mature Mozart’s most intimate opera. The orchestration of each number has been carefully analyzed to produce melodies and harmonies of incomparable beauty. His use of key is exceptional.
Upon listening to Così fan tutte carefully, one is forced to ask why the sensitive people of the nineteenth century decided to devalue this marvelous work of art. The music is simply beautiful and the libretto is very good. Did they object that is was not realistic? Come now, other nineteenth-century comic operas, like Falstaff and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg are as realistic as Così fan tutte, not to mention L’Elisir d’Amore; if we are talking about serious opera or Grand Opera we find better examples still in Lucia di Lammermoor or Il trovatore. Perhaps they did not like it because it was immoral? This is absurd. The reason was that for nineteenth-century Romanticism, which percolated throughout European society, comedy in general was not simply ignored, but despised. In England, the situation was even more extreme as a result of the straight-laced sexual attitudes that characterized the Victorian era.
As Alfred Einstein so rightly comments, to go to the theatre in general and the opera in particular, one must be in a very special mood for otherwise our everyday realism will prevent our enjoying operatic realism, of which Così fan tutte is one of the most exquisite.
Ensemble numbers dominate this opera, as much or more so than in its predecessors, which is a logical consequence of the libretto. It is the story of two couples who become two different couples due to the influence of another couple. In the first act the duets are sung by the sisters and the soldiers, and in the second by the lovers, in different combinations admittedly, but lovers all the same. I am in doubt, after the second act, whether Fiordiligi’s ideal partner is Guglielmo, since Ferrando puts everything he has into winning her heart and although Fiordiligi holds out until her strength is all but gone, at the end she gives in tenderly.
If Le nozze di Figaro is an opera full of rationalist logic and Don Giovanni is immersed in questions of fundamental importance to the human being, Così fan tutte is the opera in which Mozart shows most love for his characters. The three are favorite daughters without one being more important than the others.
Having heard Così fan tutte, or better, attended a good production, one is left with a sensation similar to that of having dreamt that someone has revealed the secrets of the universe to us, but upon waking we cannot remember even the slightest detail of the dream.
Così fan tutte is probably the masterpiece that marked the threshold between the Century of Light and Reason and the new artistic and political concepts, which characterize the nieneteenth century.
Today, on the eve of the twenty-first century, we are closer to Mozart and the era he represented than at any time in the previous two hundred years. The appreciation currently expressed for Così fan tutte among our contemporaries provides ample evidence of this.
© Luis Gutierrez Ruvalcaba