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Music by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte


Posthumous portrait of W.A. Mozart
by Kraft (1819)

The Cast


Francesco Benucci (c. 1745-1824),
the first Guglielmo in Così fan tutte
(Vienna, Burgtheater, 1790)

Fiordiligi, a young ladySoprano
Dorabella, her sisterSoprano
Guglielmo, Fiordiligi’s fiancéBaritone
Ferrando, Dorabella’s fiancéTenor
Despina, the ladies’ maidSoprano
Don Alfonso, an old philosopherBass

Soldiers, servants, sailors, townspeople.

The Story

Così fan tutte takes place in Naples, about 1790.

Act One

Scene 1. A coffee house, early morning.

The cynical Don Alfonso makes a bet with Ferrando and Guglielmo that their fiancées, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, can’t be faithful to them. They accept, agree to follow his instructions, and plan how to use their winnings.

Scene 2. A villa in Naples, late morning.

Fiordiligi and Dorabella gaze lovingly at the locket portraits of their lovers. Don Alfonso, weeping, tells them that their fiancés have been called to war. After a tearful farewell, the men depart. The sisters and Don Alfonso wish them a safe journey. Don Alfonso denounces the foolishness of founding one’s hopes on a woman.

Despina, the ladies’ clever maid, is surprised to find them grieving at their lovers’ absence. After Dorabella rages at Fate, Despina advises them to enjoy themselves and do what men do: love for convenience and vanity.

Don Alfonso, afraid that the shrewd Despina will ruin his plan, promises her a reward if she’ll help introduce two gentlemen to the ladies. Ferrando and Guglielmo, disguised as Albanian princes, pay homage to Despina, who laughs at them but doesn’t recognize them. The sisters angrily order them out, and when the men declare their adoration, they are outraged. Don Alfonso urges the women to receive his “dear friends” as suitors, but Fiordiligi strongly resists (“Come scoglio”). Guglielmo demonstrates their virtues, especially their moustaches. When the women rush away the men can’t help laughing. Ferrando is certain of the power of love (“Un’aura amorosa”).

As the ladies grieve for their fiancés, the “Albanians” rush in and take “poison,” blaming the women for their desperation. Despina and Don Alfonso go off to find a doctor. The women timidly approach the men, who fear that pity might turn to love. Don Alfonso returns with Despina, disguised as a doctor, who “treats” the men with a huge magnet invented by the famous Doctor Mesmer. The men awaken and suddenly embrace the women. Despina and Don Alfonso assure the women that it’s only the aftereffects of the poison, but when the men demand a kiss, the women repulse their advances, to the men’s delight.

Act Two

Later that day.

Despina again tries to convince the women that they should simply enjoy their suitors’ attentions and use their feminine wiles. Dorabella sees no harm in a little flirtation. She chooses the dark-haired suitor (Guglielmo), and Fiordiligi, persuaded, chooses the blond (Ferrando).

The men serenade the women, who encourage the men to speak. The men are suddenly shy, so Don Alfonso and Despina help them out. Fiordiligi and Ferrando go into the garden for a walk. Guglielmo woos Dorabella, who accepts his heart locket in place of Ferrando’s portrait.

Fiordiligi, having rejected Ferrando, is horrified that she is falling in love with him. She begs the absent Guglielmo for forgiveness (“Per pietà”).

Ferrando happily tells Guglielmo of Fiordiligi’s faithfulness, but is enraged when Guglielmo shows him the locket. Guglielmo bemoans the ingratitude of women.

Despina congratulates the women on their wisdom, but Fiordiligi is filled with regret. She plans to disguise herself and Dorabella and join the men on the battlefield, but at last she yields to Ferrando’s advances.

Don Alfonso advises the angry men to marry the women and accept that all women are alike: “Così fan tutte.” Despina announces that the women are ready for a wedding, and the men reluctantly give in.

At the wedding feast, Despina, disguised as a notary, has the women sign a marriage contract. The sound of a military band throws everyone into a panic, for Ferrando and Guglielmo have returned. The “Albanians” and the “notary” hide. Ferrando and Guglielmo then enter, eager to embrace their “faithful” sweethearts. Guglielmo discovers the “notary,” who, to the women’s surprise, is revealed to be Despina. Ferrando and Guglielmo then “discover” the contract, and in a rage go after their “rivals.” They return dressed as the Albanians. The women — including Despina — are stupefied. Fiordiligi and Dorabella denounce Don Alfonso, who admits the deception but urges forgiveness. The lovers are reunited, and, as everyone extols the virtues of being guided by reason, Don Alfonso collects on his bet, and Despina gets her reward.

© 1999 Linda Cantoni