First Performance: 26 January 1790, Burgtheater,
|Fiordiligi, a lady from Ferrara, living in Naples||Soprano|
|Dorabella, sister of Fiordiligi||Soprano|
|Guglielmo, an officer, Fiordiligi’s lover||Bass|
|Ferrando, an officer, Dorabella’s lover||Tenor|
|Despina, maidservant to the sisters||Soprano|
|Don Alfonso, an old philosopher||Bass|
Setting: 18th Century Naples
It is early morning. Two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast
about the beauty and virtue of their sweethearts, the sisters Dorabella and
Fiordiligi (“La mia Dorabella”). Don Alfonso, an older man and a friend of
the two officers, insists that a woman’s constancy is like the Arabian
phoenix – everyone says it exists but no one has ever seen it (“» la fede
delle femmine”). He proposes a wager of one hundred sequins that if they give
him one day, and do everything he asks, he will prove the sisters are like
all other women – fickle. The two young men willingly agree to Alfonso’s
terms and imagine with pleasure how they will spend their winnings (“Una
Fiordiligi and Dorabella gaze blissfully at their miniature portraits of
Guglielmo and Ferrando (“Ah, guarda sorella”), and imagine happily that they
will soon be married. Alfonso’s plan for the day begins when he arrives with
terrible news: the young officers have been called away to their regiment.
The two men appear, apparently heartbroken, and they all make elaborate
farewells (“Sento, o dio”). As the soldiers leave, the two women and Alfonso
wish them a safe journey (“Soave sia il vento”). Alfonso is delighted with
his plot and feels certain of winning his wager.
As Despina complains about how much work she has to do around the house,
Fiordiligi and Dorabella, upset by the departure of their fiancÈs, burst in.
Dorabella vents her feelings (“Smanie implacabili”), but Despina’s advice is
to forget their old lovers with the help of new ones. All men are fickle, she
says, and unworthy of a woman’s fidelity (“In uomini, in soldati”). Her
mistresses resent Despina’s approach to love, and depart. Alfonso arrives to
plan the next stage of his wager: he enlists Despina’s help to introduce the
girls to two exotic visitors, in fact Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise, and
is relieved when Despina does not recognize the two men. The sisters are
scandalized to discover strange men in their house. The newcomers declare
their admiration for the ladies, each wooing the other’s girlfriend,
according to Alfonso’s design, but the girls reject them. Fiordiligi likens
her constancy to a rock in a storm (“Come scoglio”). The men are confident of
winning the bet, but Alfonso reminds them that the day is still young.
Ferrando reiterates his passion for Dorabella (“Un’aura amorosa”), and the
two go off to await Alfonso’s further orders. Despina, still unaware of the
men’s identities, plans the afternoon with Alfonso.
As the sisters lament the absence of their lovers, the two “foreigners”
stagger in, pretending to have poisoned themselves in despair over their
rejection. The sisters call for Despina, who urges them to care for the men
while she and Alfonso fetch a doctor. Despina re-enters disguised as a doctor
and, with a special magnet, pretends to draw off the poison. She then demands
that the girls nurse the patients as they recover. The men revive (“Dove
son?”), and request kisses. As Fiordiligi and Dorabella waver under renewed
protestations of love, the men begin to worry.
In the afternoon, Despina lectures her mistresses on their stubbornness
and describes how a woman should handle men (“Una donna a quindici anni”).
Dorabella is persuaded that there could be no harm in a little flirtation,
and surprisingly, Fiordiligi agrees. They decide who will pair off with whom,
and fitting perfectly into Alfonso’s plan, each picks the other’s original
suitor (“PrenderÚ quel brunettino”).
Alfonso has arranged a romantic serenade for the sisters in the garden,
and after delivering a short lesson in courtship, he and Despina leave the
four young people together. Guglielmo, courting Dorabella, succeeds in
replacing her portrait of Ferrando with a golden heart (“Il core vi dono”).
Ferrando apparently has less luck with Fiordiligi (“Ah, lo veggio”); but when
she is left alone, she guiltily admits he has touched her heart (“Per
When they compare notes later, Ferrando is certain that they have won the
wager. Guglielmo, although pleased at the report of Fiordiligi’s faithfulness
to him, is uncertain how to break the news of Dorabella’s inconstancy to
Ferrando. He shows his friend the portrait he took from Dorabella and
Ferrando is furious. Guglielmo blames it all on women (“Donne mie, la fate a
tanti!”), but his friend is not comforted (“Tradito, schernito”). Guglielmo
asks Alfonso to pay him his half of the winnings, but Alfonso reminds him
again that the day is not yet over.
Fiordiligi rebukes Dorabella for being fickle, but finally admits that in
her heart she has succumbed to the stranger. Dorabella coaxes her to give way
completely, saying love is a thief who rewards those who obey him and
punishes all others (“» amore un ladroncello”). Left alone, Fiordiligi
decides to run away and join Guglielmo at war, but Ferrando, pursuing the
wager, tries one last time to seduce her and succeeds.
Guglielmo is furious, but Alfonso counsels forgiveness: that’s the way
women are, he claims, and a man who has been deceived can blame only himself
(“Tutti accusan le donne”). As night falls, he promises to find a solution to
their problems: he plans a double-wedding.
Despina runs in with a double-wedding plan of her own: the two sisters
have agreed to marry the “foreigners,” and she is to find a notary for the
ceremony. The scene is set for the marriage, and Alfonso arrives with the
notary – Despina in another disguise. As Fiordiligi and Dorabella sign the
contract, martial strains herald the return of the former lovers’ regiment.
In panic the two women hide their intended husbands and try to compose
themselves for the arrival of Ferrando and Guglielmo. The two apparently
joyful soldiers return, but soon become disturbed by the obvious discomfort
of the ladies. When they discover the notary the sisters beg the two men to
kill them. Ferrando and Guglielmo reveal to them the identities of the
“foreigners.” Despina realizes that Alfonso had let her in on only half of
the charade and tries to escape. Alfonso bids the lovers learn their lesson
and, with a hymn to reason and enlightenment, the day comes to a close.
“CosÏ has been seen as revealing a dark side to the
Enlightenment, an anti-feminist sadism (Ford 1991). Yet by any showing the
most admirable character is Fiordiligi. The girls develop more than the men.
Dorabella at least learns to understand her own lightness; and ‘Fra gli
amplessi’ suggests that Fiordiligi has matured through learning the
power of sexuality. There is little sign that Guglielmo learns anything in
the school for lovers, even that those who set traps deserve to get caught,
although his vanity is wounded as deeply as his purse. Ferrando, however,
comes to live as intensely as Fiordiligi, and may appear to have fallen in
love with her. To suggest that they should marry (leaving Guglielmo for
Dorabella) is, however, still less satisfactory than reversion to the
original pairings. The conclusion represents not a solution but a way of
bringing the action to a close with an artificiality so evident that no happy
outcome can be predicted. The music creates this enigma, but cannot solve
image_description=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: CosÏ fan tutte
first_audio_name=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: CosÏ fan tutte
product_title=Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: CosÏ fan tutte
product_by=Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Fiordiligi), Nan Merriman (Dorabella), Graziella Sciutti (Despina), Luigi Alva (Fernando), Rolando Panerai (Guglielmo), Franco Calabrese (Don Alfonso), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Alla Scala di Milano, Guido Cantelli (cond.).
Live recording, 27 January 1956, Milan
Graphic by Michael Gibbs