MOZART, ‘COSI FAN TUTTE’ (‘THEY ALL DO IT’)
Many consider ‘Cosi’ the finest of Mozart’s operas, despite the spectacular silliness — some would say vicious misogyny — of the plot, by Mozart’s favourite librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.
Two young men, Guglielmo and Ferrando, are boasting of the sterling qualities, especially the faithfulness, of their respective girlfriends, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. (It doesn’t really matter which is which, as we shall see.) Enter their cynical older friend Don Alfonso, who laughs at them and makes a bet that, provided the two young men follow his instructions, he can prove the girls faithless. They accept enthusiastically.
The scene changes to the boudoir of the two sisters, who are drinking hot chocolate served by their maid Despina. They too are telling each other how wonderful Guglielmo and Ferrando are.
Enter Don Alfonso, bringing terrible news: Guglielmo and Ferrando have been called up for military service; they must set off at once to fight the Turks, or perhaps the Albanians. Enter the young men; there is a tearful farewell. They leave, ostensibly to board their ship. Dorabella, Fiordiligi and Don Alfonso sing the trio ‘Soave sia il vento, tranquillo il mare’ (May the winds be gentle, the seas calm’) It is typical of Mozart that the hidden pretext for this heartrendingly beautiful trio — there is rarely a dry eye in the house — is a cruel practical joke.
Don Alfonso, having first suborned Despina into helping him with the ‘joke’, leaves the sisters to their sorrow. The down-to-earth Despina suggests they ‘divert’ themselves with a little flirtation during their beloveds’ absence; she is roundly rebuked by the indignant Dorabella and Fiordiligi.
Nevertheless, Don Alfonso brings in two eligible young men, apparently members of the occupying Turkish (or perhaps Albanian) forces, but in fact of course Guglielmo and Ferrando in disguise. There is a socially awkward tea-party, and eventually the two ‘Turks’ declare their love for the sisters. They are angrily rejected, and go to claim their winnings from Don Alfonso, but he says they haven’t tried hard enough. The men return to the girls and, in ‘despair’, ‘take poison’. They are revived by the ‘Doctor’ (Despina of course, whose disguise includes a grotesque high-pitched croak). The kind-hearted women relent slightly, and it is with very mixed feelings that, quite soon, each young man finds that he has succeeded in seducing the other’s girlfriend.
A double marriage is arranged, presided over by the ‘Notary’, (the disguised and croaking Despina again of course) but at the last moment Don Alfonso rushes in, telling the ‘Turks’ to hide because Guglielmo and Ferrando have returned from the wars.
After a flurry of backstage quick changes, ex-notary Despina brings in ex-Turkish soldiers Guglielmo and Ferrando. During the joyful if anxiety-ridden reunion, one of the men ‘happens to find’ a marriage contract on the table. The enraged Guglielmo and Ferrando confront the penitent Dorabella and Fiordiligi, but once the girls have confessed to their faithlessness they are forgiven; after all they are only women, and ‘Cosi fan Tutte’.