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Così fan tutte

[It. kaw-zee fahn toot-te]
Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti (Thus Do They All, or The School For Lovers) K. 588, is an opera buffa by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte.

Così fan tutte (often shortened to Così in the English-speaking world) is one of the three Mozart operas for which da Ponte wrote the libretto. The other two da Ponte-Mozart collaborations were Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Così was written and composed at the suggestion of the Emperor Joseph II. The libretto was originally intended to be set to music by Mozart's contemporary Antonio Salieri but Salieri only completed parts of the first act and then broke off work on the opera.

The title, Così fan tutte, literally means "Thus do all [women]" but it is often translated as "Women are like that". The words are sung by the three men in Act II, Scene xiii, just before the finale. Da Ponte had used the line "Così fan tutte le belle" earlier in Le nozze di Figaro (in Act I, Scene vii).

Performance history

The first performance of Mozart's setting took place at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26 1790.

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 libretti.

After World War II, it regained its place in the standard operatic repertoire. It is frequently performed and appears as number fifteen on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, January 26, 1790
(Conductor: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Fiordiligi, Lady from Ferrara and sister to Dorabella, living in Naples dramatic coloratura soprano Adriana Ferrarese
Dorabella, Lady from Ferrara and sister to Fiordiligi, living in Naples lyric mezzo-soprano Louise (Luisa) Villeneuve
Guglielmo, Lover of Fiordiligi lyric baritone Francesco Benucci
Ferrando, Lover of Dorabella tenore di grazia Vincenzo Calvesi
Despina, a maid soubrette Dorotea Bussani
Don Alfonso, an old philosopher

basso buffo Francesco Bussani
Chorus: soldiers, servants, sailors

While the use of modern fach titles and categories has become customary, it should be noted that Mozart was far more general in his own descriptions of voice type: Fiordiligi (soprano), Dorabella (soprano), Guglielmo (bass), Ferrando (tenor), Despina (soprano), Don Alfonso (bass).


Mozart and Da Ponte took as a theme "fiancée swapping" which dates back to the 13th century, with notable earlier versions being those of 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.

Place: Naples.
Time: the 18th century.

Act 1

In a coffee shop, Ferrando and Guglielmo (two officers) claim 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 these two women (like all women) are fickle. The wager is accepted: the two officers will pretend to have been called off to war; soon thereafter they shall return in disguise and attempt to seduce each other's lover. The scene shifts to the two women (they are sisters) who are praising their men. 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 piedo 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"), then Alfonso, left alone, rails against the fickleness of women (arioso: Oh, poverini, per femmina giocar cento zecchini?—"Oh, poor little ones, to wager 100 sequins on a woman").

The scene shifts to a room in the sisters' home. Despina, their 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 consider new lovers over old lovers (aria: In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltà?—"In men, in soldiers, you hope for faithfulness?"). After they depart, Alfonso arrives upon the scene. He fears Despina will recognize the men through their disguises, so he bribes her into helping him win the bet. The two men then arrive, dressed as mustachioed Albanians. The sisters enter and are alarmed by the presence of strange men in their home. The Albanians attempt to win over the sisters, 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 (aria: Come scoglio—"Like a rock"). Ferrando, left alone and sensing victory, praises his love (aria: Un'aura amorosa—"A loving breath").

The scene shifts to a garden, with the sisters still pining. But Despina has asked Don Alfonso to let her take over the seduction plan—and 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 pass out. Soon thereafter, a doctor arrives on the scene (Despina in disguise), who, through use of a large magnet (see animal magnetism), is able to revive the Albanians. The revived men, hallucinating, demand a kiss of the goddesses who stand before them. The sisters refuse, even as Alfonso and the doctor (Despina) urge them to acquiesce.

Act 2

The act opens in the sisters' bedroom, with Despina urging 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").

The scene shifts to the garden, where 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.

The scene changes to the sister's room, where 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."

The final 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.

Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Despina, Ferrando, Guglielmo, Alfonso)
Opera House and Orchestra,
1935 Ina Souez,
Luise Helletsgruber,
Irene Eisinger,
Heddle Nash,
Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender
John Brownlee
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Fritz Busch
(first ever recording)
Audio CD: Naxos Records
(remastered 2004)
1952 Eleanor Steber,
Blanche Thebom,
Roberta Peters,
Richard Tucker,
Frank Guarrera,
Lorenzo Alvary
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry Audio CD: Columbia Records
1954 Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,
Nan Merriman,
Lisa Otto,
Leopold Simoneau,
Rolando Panerai,
Sesto Bruscantini
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Herbert von Karajan Audio CD: EMI Classics
1955 Lisa della Casa,
Christa Ludwig,
Emmy Loose,
Anton Dermota,
Erich Kunz,
Paul Schoffler
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Karl Böhm Audio CD: Decca
1962 Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,
Christa Ludwig,
Hanny Steffek,
Alfredo Kraus,
Giuseppe Taddei,
Walter Berry
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Karl Böhm Audio CD: EMI Classics
(re-issued 2000)
1992 Amanda Roocroft,
Rosa Mannion,
Eirian James,
Rainer Trost,
Rodney Gilfry,
Carlos Feller
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner Audio CD: Archiv Produktion (Deutsche Grammophon)
(also released on DVD in 2002 with Claudio Nicolai in place of Carlos Feller)
1999 Véronique Gens,
Bernarda Fink,
Graciela Oddone,
Werner Güra,
Marcel Boone,
Pietro Spagnoli
Concerto Köln, Kolner Kammerchor, René Jacobs Audio CD: Harmonia Mundi


Modern adaptations

Louis Nowra's Cos%C3%AC is a theatre production set in the 1970s in a Melbourne mental hospital. A young director is asked to put on a play with inpatients, and a Mozart-obsessed patient ensures that the production is Così fan Tutte, in spite of the fact that none of them can sing, nor speak Italian.

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