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For the movie loosely based on the opera, see Così fan tutte (film).

Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti (Thus Do They All, or The School for Lovers) K. 588, is an Italian-language opera buffa in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first performed in 1790. The libretto was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who also wrote Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Although it is commonly held that Così fan tutte was written and composed at the suggestion of the Emperor Joseph II, recent research does not support this idea.[1] There is evidence that Mozart's contemporary Antonio Salieri tried to set the libretto but left it unfinished. In 1994 John Rice uncovered two terzetti by Salieri in the Austrian National Library.[2]

The title, Così fan tutte, literally means "Thus do all [women]" and is popularly used to mean "Women are like that". The words are sung by the three men in act 2, scene 13, just before the finale. Da Ponte had used the line "Così fan tutte le belle" earlier in Le nozze di Figaro (in act 1, scene 7).

Performance history[edit]

The first performance of Mozart's setting took place at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790. It was given only five times before the run was stopped by the death of the Emperor Joseph II and the resulting period of court mourning. It was performed twice in June 1790, with the composer conducting the second performance, and again in July (twice) and August (once). After that it was not played in Vienna during Mozart's lifetime.[3] The first British performance was in May 1811, at the King's Theatre, London.[4][5] Così fan tutte was not performed in the U.S. until 1922, when it was given at the Metropolitan Opera[4]

According to William Mann,[6] Mozart disliked prima donna Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, da Ponte's arrogant mistress for whom the role of Fiordiligi had been created. Knowing her idiosyncratic tendency to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, Mozart filled her showpiece aria Come scoglio with constant leaps from low to high and high to low in order to make Ferrarese's head "bob like a chicken" onstage.[7]

The subject-matter (see synopsis below) did not offend Viennese sensibilities of the time, but throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries it was considered risqué. The opera was rarely performed, and when it did appear it was presented in one of several bowdlerised forms.

After World War II it regained its place in the standard operatic repertoire. It is frequently performed and appears 14th on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.[8]


Playbill of the first performance
Role Voice type Premiere cast, January 26, 1790
(Conductor: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Fiordiligi, Lady from Ferrara and sister to Dorabella, living in Naples soprano Adriana Ferrarese
Dorabella, Lady from Ferrara and sister to Fiordiligi, living in Naples soprano Louise (Luisa) Villeneuve
Guglielmo, Lover of Fiordiligi, a Soldier bass Francesco Benucci
Ferrando, Lover of Dorabella, a Soldier tenor Vincenzo Calvesi
Despina, a maid soprano Dorotea Bussani
Don Alfonso, an old philosopher bass Francesco Bussani
Chorus: soldiers, servants, sailors

While the use of modern fach titles and voice categories for these roles has become customary, Mozart was far more general in his own descriptions of the voice types: Fiordiligi (soprano), Dorabella (soprano), Guglielmo (bass), Ferrando (tenor), Despina (soprano), and Don Alfonso (bass).[9] Occasionally these modern voice types are varied in performance practice. Don Alfonso is frequently performed by baritones such as Thomas Allen and Bo Skovhus and Dorabella is almost always performed by a mezzo-soprano. In the ensembles, Guglielmo's music lies lower than Alfonso's, and accordingly has been performed by basses such as James Morris and Wladimiro Ganzarolli, and Despina is occasionally (though far less often than the other three instances cited here) performed by a mezzo, such as Cecilia Bartoli, Frederica von Stade, Agnes Baltsa and Ann Murray. Ferrando and Fiordiligi, however, can only be sung by a tenor and a soprano due to the taxing high tessitura of their roles.


The instrumentation as follows:


Mozart and Da Ponte use the theme of "fiancée swapping", which dates back to the 13th century; notable earlier versions are found in Boccaccio's Decameron and Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. Elements from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew are also present. Furthermore, it incorporates elements of the myth of Procris as found in Ovid's Metamorphoses, vii.[10]

Place: Naples
Time: the 18th century

Act 1[edit]

Costume design by Eugène Berman

Scene 1: A coffeehouse

In a cafe, Ferrando and Guglielmo (two officers) express certainty that their fiancées (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 those two, like all women, are fickle. The wager is accepted: the two officers will pretend to have been called off to war; soon thereafter they will return in disguise and each attempt to seduce the other's lover. The scene shifts to the two women, who are praising their men (duet: Ah guarda sorella—"Ah tell me sister"). 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 piede 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"). Alfonso, left alone, gloatingly predicts that the women (like all women) will prove unfaithful (arioso: Oh, poverini, per femmina giocare cento zecchini?—"Oh, poor little ones, to wager 100 sequins on a woman").

Scene 2: A room in the sisters' home

Despina, the 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 take new lovers while their betrotheds are away (aria: In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltà?—"In men, in soldiers, you hope for faithfulness?"). After they leave, Alfonso arrives. He fears Despina will recognize the men through their disguises, so he bribes her into helping him to win the bet. The two men then arrive, dressed as mustachioed Albanians (sextet: Alla bella Despinetta—"Meet the pretty Despinetta"). The sisters enter and are alarmed by the presence of strange men in their home. The "Albanians" tell the sisters that they were led by love to them (the sisters). However, the sisters refuse to give in. Fiordiligi asks the "Albanians" to leave and pledges to remain faithful (aria: Come scoglio—"Like a rock"). The "Albanians" continue the attempt to win over the sisters' hearts, 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. Ferrando, left alone and sensing victory, praises his love (aria: Un'aura amorosa—"A loving breath").

Scene 3: A garden

The sisters are still pining. Despina has asked Don Alfonso to let her take over the seduction plan. 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 pretend to pass out. Soon thereafter, a doctor (Despina in disguise) arrives on the scene and, using magnet therapy, is able to revive the "Albanians". The men, pretending to hallucinate, demand a kiss from the goddesses who stand before them. The sisters refuse, even as Alfonso and the doctor (Despina) urge them to acquiesce.

Act 2[edit]

Scene 1: The sisters' bedroom

Despina urges 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, and the two agree that a mere flirtation will do no harm and will help them pass the time while they wait for their lovers to return (duet: Prenderò quel brunettino"—"I will take the dark one").

Scene 2: The garden

Dorabella and the disguised Guglielmo pair off, as do the other two. The conversation is haltingly uncomfortable, and Ferrando departs with Fiordiligi. 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 Fiordiligi's aria: Per pietà, 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.

Scene 3: The sisters' room

Dorabella admits her indiscretion to Fiordiligi (È amore un ladroncello—"Love is 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: Fra 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: Così fan tutte—"All women are like that."

Scene 4:

The 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.


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Brown, p. 10
  2. ^ Collins, Michael, Notes, Second Series, Vol. 53, No. 4 (June 1997), pp. 1142–1144. Music Library Association.
  3. ^ Branscombe, Peter. "Historical Note", Royal Opera House programme, 4 November 1976
  4. ^ a b Holden, p. 253
  5. ^ "King's Theatre," The Times, 7 May 1811, p. 4;
  6. ^ Mann, p. ??
  7. ^ As quoted by Robert Greenberg, Great Masters – Mozart: His Life and Work, Lecture 8: "The Last Years" (Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses, 2000)
  8. ^ "Opera Statistics". Operabase. Retrieved 12 Aug 2013. 
  9. ^ As evidenced by Bärenreiter's critical editions of the opera and corresponding articles in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera
  10. ^ Synopsis taken from Leo Melitz, The Opera Goer's Complete Guide, 1921 version.


Other sources

External links[edit]

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