Così fan tutte

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte

SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION

Two young soldiers disguise their identities to test their lovers' fidelity in this Mozart masterpiece, a sublime and sometimes startling mix of hilarious farce and poignant drama. John Cox's production, which sets the action in Monte Carlo in 1915, makes for "deliciously vivid theater" (Dallas Morning News). The immensely talented young cast includes Ellie Dehn, "a charismatic soprano with great stage presence" (Wall Street Journal) who sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni (2011) and Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro (2010); Susannah Biller praised by Opera News for her "gleaming tone"; and Francesco Demuro, "an artist not merely spectacular, but profound" (Seattle Times). Conducting will be music director Nicola Luisotti, "an inexhaustible, graceful conduit of music...always elegant, refined and precise" (Opera News).

Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 3 hours, 20 minutes including one intermission

Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the main theater in the Orchestra section, 55 minutes prior to curtain.


Co-production with Opéra de Monte-Carlo

Production photos by Cory Weaver

Audio excerpts are from the July 5, 2005 performance of Così fan tutte with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson.


Cast

Fiordiligi Ellie Dehn
Dorabella Christel Lötzsch *
Ferrando Francesco Demuro
Guglielmo Philippe Sly *
Don Alfonso Marco Vinco

Production Credits

Conductor Nicola Luisotti
Director Jose Maria Condemi
Production Designer Robert Perdziola
Lighting Designer Christopher Maravich
Chorus Director Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera Debut

Synopsis

ACT I
 
Don Alfonso is trying to enlighten Ferrando and Guglielmo as to the true nature of women. He places a bet that he can prove their fiancées, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are not the icons of purity the men believe them to be. Both sides are confident of victory within twenty-four hours.
           
Sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are celebrating the perfection of their lovers. Don Alfonso arrives and tells them that their men have been called up and must leave immediately for the battlefront. The men enact a farewell scene of “go off to war.” The women are devastated but the maid Despina tells them to look on the bright side and have a good time in their absence—in other words, behave exactly as men do.
           
Don Alfonso and Despina work together to this end. Don Alfonso introduces two Albanian friends whom Despina in turn introduces to the sisters. None of the three women penetrate the disguises of Ferrando and Guglielmo.
           
Fiordiligi and Dorabella are offended to see the strange men and are repelled by their advances. They declare fidelity to their lovers. The young men are delighted, but Don Alfonso is quite relaxed.
           
The sisters continue to grieve. The two rejected strangers return to them, swallow “poison,” and collapse. The terrified girls call for Despina, who goes with Don Alfonso to find a doctor. Fiordiligi and Dorabella try to help the “dying” strangers. Don Alfonso returns with Despina disguised as a doctor who claims to cure everything by magnetism. The men revive and, believing they are in heaven, demand a kiss from their angels Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The sisters manage to resist again.
 
ACT II
 
Despina persuades the sisters to befriend their new admirers. They decide on preferences—Dorabella chooses Guglielmo, and Fiordiligi chooses Ferrando. Each has instinctively chosen the other’s partner. Don Alfonso and Despina cement the new love affairs in the context of a masquerade. The couples pair up and Dorabella yields to Guglielmo. Fiordligi rejects Ferrando, for the time being.
           
Ferrando and Guglielmo exchange notes on their progress. Ferrando is furious, and Guglielmo is triumphant but brutally dismissive of the fallen Dorabella.
           
Despina and Dorabella put pressure on Fiordiligi. Fiordiligi decides she must run away to join Guglielmo at war, but Ferrando confronts her again and she too yields. Agonized, Guglielmo witnesses it all. Don Alfonso has proven his point and won the bet.
           
Don Alfonso and Despina arrange for the new couples to be “married” by Despina disguised as a notary. As the girls sign their names, a military band is heard. Apparently the soldiers have returned unexpectedly. In the confusion, the two men disappear, reemerging without their disguises. Shocked at the evidence of a wedding they swear vengeance on their rivals.
           
The plot is revealed. All four lovers’ certainties have been destroyed. No one quite knows what to feel, except that certainly human nature has been at work.

A Humane School for Lovers

Gavin Plumley

Experience, so the truism goes, is a hard school but fools will learn no other. The school in the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s 1790 comedy Così fan tutte is a metaphorical one, created by Don Alfonso and his friends.

Download a PDF of this article here


Nathan Gunn (Guglielmo) and Katherine Rohrer (Dorabella) in the 2005 production
Photo by Terrence McCarthy

 
Nevertheless, relationships are tested, what seemed fun teeters on the distressing and, at the end of the opera, the audience is left decidedly uncertain as to whether the characters’ lives will ever be the same again. Viewing Così fan tutte through its seemingly specious plot has led many to dismiss the opera out of hand and it was only during the twentieth century that it finally found its feet, as sexual mores relaxed and people began to listen properly to Mozart’s humanising music. So, rather than being their most artificial conceit, Così fan tutte may just be Mozart and Da Ponte’s profoundest, most accurate depiction of the human condition.
 
Having finally broken his ties with the Archbishop of Salzburg, Mozart remained in Vienna in 1781 with the intent of writing operas for the great musical city. He had arrived (summoned by his former boss) with Idomeneo under his arm. The opera seria had just had its premiere in Munich, and Mozart brought the score to Vienna as a prospectus for his talents. Life in Salzburg up to that point had provided very few opportunities for theatrical music, dominated as it was by liturgical commissions with the occasional sonata, serenade, or concerto thrown in for variety. Vienna was, however, quite a different place. It was the heart of the Habsburg Empire, the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor, and was described by Mozart as “the best place in the world for his profession” (in a letter home to his father Leopold).
 
Mozart immediately began to pitch ideas for the Imperial theatres. Rather than the world of classical tragedy shown in Idomeneo, however, Mozart dedicated what became the final decade of his life to a series of highly involved comedies. He returned to the world of Idomeneo in his last months when he composed La Clemenza di Tito for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II in Prague, but it is an anomaly in a brilliant stream of comic stage works from the 1780s. Having arrived in Vienna in March 1781, Mozart had his first libretto in hand by July of that year. Die Entführung aus dem Serail—a farcical Singspiel set in a Turkish harem—was not quite the unadulterated success for which Mozart had hoped, but, highly theatrical, often deeply camp, it was a fizzing showcase of his talents. If occasionally Mozart pushed the virtuosic elements of the score too far—triggering the Emperor Joseph II’s apocryphal remark of “too many notes, my dear Mozart”—there could be no doubt that Vienna had a considerable new musical force to be reckoned with and he was soon to be joined by an equally brilliant collaborator.
 
  
Portraits of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte
Bridgeman Art Library

 
Lorenzo Da Ponte came from Venice. His taste for high living, liberal politics, and the ladies had caused untold scandal at home, and he was forced to find an alternative base. He eventually found an “in” with Antonio Salieri, the court composer in Vienna, and arrived late in 1781. Da Ponte proved a felicitous collaborator, versifying old texts and adapting foreign plays with unprecedented ease. He translated Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride into Italian and wrote a new libretto for Salieri. But it was Mozart who ultimately proved to be Da Ponte’s most kindred spirit.
 
Mozart was a far more daring figure than Salieri, who was forced to tow the line due to his position at court; Mozart was also more talented. Shortly after Da Ponte began work with Salieri, he was adapting Beaumarchais’s La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro for Mozart. In the year he wrote Le Nozze di Figaro, Da Ponte created six librettos. Despite his brilliance and speed, the director of the court theatre, the famously snooty Count Rosenberg, disliked him. In his eyes, Da Ponte was an arrogant Italian who thought he could play the Viennese at their own game. Yet he continued to work prolifically, writing librettos for Salieri and Martín y Soler at the same time as Mozart’s Don Giovanni (with or without the help of Casanova). The pair’s second opera had its first performance in Prague in 1787, shortly after the acclaimed local premiere of Figaro. Don Giovanni was equally lauded in Vienna six months later, as was a revival of Figaro in 1789. Mozart and Da Ponte were keen to repeat the success. 
 
Da Ponte struck on another idea for a comedy with Mozart shortly after embarking on a relationship with the operatic soprano Adriana Ferrarese—she was to sing in the 1789 revival of Figaro. The piece was originally called La Scola degli Amanti (The School for Lovers), in which a cynical view of human relationships mixes with Da Ponte’s biographical reflections on his liaison with Ferrarese. The confluence of the two inspired his most daring text to date, which he constructed with brilliant formal symmetry: there are three men and three women, each has a set-piece aria in each act, and as Mozart and Da Ponte play with various combinations of characters and situations the joke turns to action.
 
Da Ponte’s drama is a highly knowing self-referencing farce. Don Alfonso, a sort of in loco librettist-cum-games master, controls the action. He sets up the challenge and manipulates Guglielmo, Ferrando, Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and the girls’ maid Despina to his own ends (and for our entertainment). The characters are brilliantly delineated: Guglielmo is a determined opera buffa baritone; his friend Ferrando has a contrastingly poetic streak (despite masculine assurances and boasts to the contrary). Fiordiligi and Dorabella live up to Don Alfonso’s presumptuous claims about women, though Fiordiligi at first does a better job of withstanding temptation. As if to indicate the range of characters offered, Da Ponte makes the hard-done-by Despina into a superb play-actor, who skilfully apes the character of Dr. Mesmer at the end of the first act and as the notary at the wedding feast. All human life is here, in just six characters.  
 
For contemporary audiences, however, the results of this farce were decidedly mixed. Female fickleness and sexual games were controversial subjects in late-eighteenth-century Vienna and, as with Figaro and Don Giovanni, Da Ponte allows the cynics rather than the moral do-gooders to control the action. Così fan tutte was therefore considered something of a frippery—a poetic musical game, which had no place alongside the profounder works of the time. The next generation was equally unkind to Così fan tutte and, during the nineteenth century, dominated by a strict bourgeois morality opposed to its “free loving” message, the opera fell out of the repertoire.
 
There were still some early supporters who saw beyond appearances and understood Mozart’s music, which consistently humanizes Don Alfonso’s frivolous and often hurtful games. Goethe was one such admirer:
 
This opera seems to be considered as the least important of Mozart’s theatrical works, and this pains me. To be sure the over simplicity of its subject, the weak delineation of the characters on the part of the poet, the situations’ lack of truth, the feebleness of the denouement, and above all the pitiful translations have contributed much to this judgement. All the greater then were the difficulties with which the composer had to battle. We wish to investigate now how he overcame these. First one is struck by how delicately this opera is scored; how Mozart refrained from the sort of overburdening for which he has otherwise been criticized; how appropriately he has used the wind instruments. Add to that the harmony of the whole […] the grace in the individual paintings, with what tenderness every emotion is handled; the truth of expression! The plot does not suffer any strong coloration, and yet such refined nuancing of the characters.
 

Costume design for this production by Robert Perdziola

Even though Goethe is wise about the music, he damns the libretto. Standing back from such straitlaced objections, we can see that what Da Ponte proffers, even more deftly than in Figaro, is a lightness of touch and a fluidity of design and pace. The spirit of its ensuing cat-and-mouse games is that we are neither sure where it will end nor are we certain where artifice stops and emotional reality begins. Furthermore, the symmetry of the work allowed Mozart to explore that duality in his incredible sequence of set-piece arias. Here the tension proffered by Da Ponte, answered and sometimes contradicted by Mozart’s incredible music, lends these moments an insight and depth that, even at its height, Le Nozze di Figaro cannot quite match.
 
An ostensibly boastful aria like Ferrando’s “Un’aura amorosa” in Act One, for instance, allows Mozart to communicate deeper truths. Having witnessed Dorabella’s resistance to Guglielmo, Ferrando thinks there is little point in continuing the game. “Why worry?” he says. “When the battle is over, our supper will taste all the better.” The supper cited in the recitative will be the “sweet refreshment of a breath of love from our darlings.” Ferrando is certain that Dorabella will remain constant to him. Yet Mozart, knowing what lies ahead and markedly less innocent of human nature, provides something of a harmonic question mark. The aria is in ternary form, with the initial section repeated at the end. But rather than a strict repeat, Mozart provides a variation on the original. Woodwinds have replaced the initial string accompaniment and there is a passing chromaticism in the bassoon that provides a deeply surprising (if brief) note of melancholy. Things are not what they seem.
 
Such minute details herald major emotional shifts. The adamant Fiordiligi is sent up in her first aria “Come scoglio,” appearing like a rather stroppy teenager. What emerges over the course of its form and in later episodes is a very intricate portrait of a complex character, made absolutely manifest in her “Per pieta” in Act Two. Even the scheming Don Alfonso is not entirely immune to such humane thoughts in the drama and he joins the girls’ serene “Soave sia il vento” as their men “disappear” off to war. Even if primarily parodic on his part, Mozart nonetheless gives very little indication of the charade while Don Alfonso supports their sublime picture of nature at work. Likewise Despina is often rather defensive of the men as, slowly but surely, the farce is humanized and real emotions emerge from an initially artificial comedy of manners.
 
As audiences became more honest about their own behavior around the turn of the twentieth century, responses to Mozart and Da Ponte’s last collaboration similarly became more balanced. Refuting Goethe’s prudish criticisms, the musicologist Edward Dent wrote that:
 
Così fan tutte is the best of all Da Ponte’s librettos and the most exquisite work of art among Mozart’s operas. It is as perfect a libretto as any composer could desire, though no composer but Mozart could ever do it justice. […] To appreciate the delicate filigree of Da Ponte’s comedy, one must read every word of the Italian original and sing it through, recitatives and all, to Mozart’s music.
 
Dent captures the subtlety of Da Ponte and Mozart’s inter-reliant work within Così fan tutte. Da Ponte may have provided a series of stock characters and situations, but what unfolds is far from conventional. Not only does the libretto subvert our expectations but, most importantly, Mozart shifts our perspective through tiny musical details which imbue the characters and the music they sing with a richer, deeper compassion. So even if Don Alfonso’s pat conclusion “così fan tutte” (so all women do) dominates our perception at first—heard as a cadential figure in the overture and repeated in Act Two—both Da Ponte and Mozart show that human nature is rarely so predictable. The original couplings might be restored in the final scene, but a vestige of the ostensibly fictional partnerships remains. This nagging feeling—constantly working its way through the music, the text, and our reading of both—is the essence human nature, which Da Ponte and Mozart dared to show in its true colors.

Gavin Plumley is a British writer and musicologist specializing in Central European music and culture. He has spoken on BBC Radio 3, written for The Guardian, Classical Music and BBC Music Magazine, and he commissions and edits the English-language program notes for the Salzburg Festival.
 

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Nicola Luisotti on Così fan tutte

Robert Wilder Blue


Così fan tutte is Mozart’s sexiest opera.”


Nicola Luisotti
photo by Terrence McCarthy

 

When he conducts Così, Maestro Luisotti will complete the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy, having conducted Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni in previous seasons. “It is interesting that after Figaro and Don Giovanni, Mozart turned to a leaner style for Così—a lighter, more transparent texture. I remember the line in the film Amadeus when the emperor tells Mozart his new opera contains ‘too many notes.’ I suppose one could say that Così has fewer notes, although that is a little simplistic.

“We’re doing something new with the accompaniments to the recitatives. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are really baroque characters—their music is florid and ornamented. They will be accompanied by a theorbo, a kind of baroque guitar. Despina and Don Alfonso are characters firmly set in the 18th century, the present time of the opera. They will be accompanied by the traditional continuo, harpsichord and cello. Guglielmo and Ferrando are already living in the future, so they will be accompanied by a fortepiano, an instrument popular in the 19th century. I think this will highlight the characters’ qualities and circumstances.”

But, isn’t this comedy about fidelity and fiancée-swapping a bit silly and sexist today? Luisotti responds, “Così is a story of our weaknesses and the choices we make, especially when we are young and presented with new opportunities. It’s human nature to be drawn to exploring these opportunities, often without thinking about the outcomes. We wanted to assemble a young cast that resembled the characters as closely as possible. The atmosphere they created in the rehearsal process was intimate; you can feel the real emotions of the characters. This makes the story quite believable and I think it will be a pleasure for our audience.”

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Past San Francisco Opera Casts

A look at some of our past casts for Così fan tutte

Download a PDF of this article here

For a complete listing of all past Così fan tutte casts at San Francisco Opera,
visit our online performance archive



A scene from San Francisco Opera’s first Così fan tutte in 1956.
Photo by Robert Lackenbach


Richard Lewis as Ferrando in 1963.
Photo by Pete Peters


Legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf appeared as Fiordiligi in four Company productions.
She is pictured here in 1963 taking a bow for her performance.

Photo by Pete Peters



Margaret Price (Fiordiligi) and Teresa Berganza (Dorabella) in 1970.
Photo by Robert Cahen



Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and bass-baritone Richard Stillwell appeared opposite each other in two San Francisco Opera productions: as Dorabella and Guglielmo in 1973 (left), and as Despina and Don Alfonso in the 2004–05 season (right).
Photos by Carolyn Mason Jones and Terrence McCarthy



Dale Duesing (Guglielmo), Michael Cousins (Ferrando), and Thomas Stewart (Don Alfonso) in 1979.
Photo by Ira Nowinski



Pilar Lorengar (Fiordiligi), Ruth Ann Swenson (Despina), and Tatiana Troyanos (Dorabella) in 1983.
Photo by Ron Scherl



Dale Travis (Don Alfonso) and Janet Williams (Despina) in the 1991 production.
Photo by Ken Friedman


 

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"This is an extremely fine Così whose light and love continue to shine long after the curtain has closed."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
"The standout performance was the precocious and phenomenally assured company debut of Adler Fellow Philippe Sly."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Ellie Dehn gave her finest performance." The audience will enjoy the "extreme smoothness of her beautiful voice."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
"Christel Löetzch was auspicious, not only for her impressively sung two solo arias, but for her enchanting duets with Dehn."

  –Opera Warhorses
"Francesco Demuro sang with plenty of ardency and tonal brilliance."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
Susannah Biller "shined in one of opera's great comic roles, befitting a Rossini heroine."

  –San Francisco Examiner
An "ultra-smooth, honeyed ensemble."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
"Nicola Luisotti's musical direction was lively and shimmering."

  –San Francisco Examiner
Marco Vinco "sings and acts with strength, grace and wit...[his] portrayal is a joy from start to finish."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
Ellie Dehn deployed "a commandingly wide vocal range" and maneuvered "her way deftly through the role's intricate coloratura."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
Philippe Sly sings "with so much beauty, and such ease onstage."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
"Marco Vinco's Don Alfonso was a cagey marvel–dark-hued, knowing and full of demonic elegance."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
Susannah Biller "brought such joy to the production that Mozart and de Ponte were very well served."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice
"Francesco Demuro sings beautifully."

  –San Francisco Classical Voice

ELLIE DEHN

Ellie Dehn won raves from audiences with her portrayal of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (2010).




MARCO VINCO (DON ALFONSO) AND ELLIE DEHN REUNITE IN COSÌ FAN TUTTE

Marco Vinco and Ellie Dehn are memorable for their performances in Don Giovanni (2011).

Marco Vinco:


Ellie Dehn:



INTRODUCTION TO COSÌ FAN TUTTE

Learn more about Così fan tutte in this episode of Opera Talk!




NPR's “WORLD OF OPERA”

Read more about Così fan tutte in NPR's World of Opera:

READ ARTICLE



JOYCE DIDONATO AND RENÉE FLEMING SING “A, GUARDA SORELLA”

Watch Joyce DiDonato (Romeo in this season's The Capulets and the Montagues) and Renée Fleming sing "A, guarda sorella."




Performances

  • Sun 06/9/13 2:00pm *

  • Wed 06/12/13 7:30pm *

  • Tue 06/18/13 8:00pm *

  • Fri 06/21/13 8:00pm

  • Wed 06/26/13 7:30pm

  • Sat 06/29/13 8:00pm

  • Mon 07/1/13 7:30pm *

*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret-Taube Media Suite.

Sponsors

This production is made possible, in part, by San Francisco Opera Guild. Nicola Luisotti's appearance made possible by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Chairs, Amici di Nicola of Camerata.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.