According to Don Alfonso, “All women are like that”—that is, flighty, superficial, and incapable of fidelity. Inspired by his statement, two young men set out to test the loyalty of their lovers with some unforeseen results. Nicknamed “The School for Lovers” by its composer and librettist, Così fan tutte will keep audiences reflecting, second-guessing, and laughing the whole night through.
Many great operas began as great disasters. The ever popular Madama Butterfly was poorly received at its premiere, and the inaugural performance of the comic classic The Barber of Seville was a disastrous failure. This was not the case with Così fan tutte. The Mozart classic received general notes of praise when it opened at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790. Unfortunately the opera saw only five performances at this time, as its run was cut short by the death of Emperor Joseph II, and the court was obliged to put aside leisurely activities such as theatrical performances for the sake of ceremonial mourning. Although the opera saw a handful of other performances throughout Europe at this time, it was not until 1922 that Così fan tutte crossed the sea for its American premiere at the Metropolitan Opera. The first Omaha staging of Così fan tutte occurred during the 1996-97 season—the current Opera Omaha production will mark the second time the opera has been performed before local audiences.
Leave it to the Critics:
Now one of the most frequently performed operas around the globe, Così fan tutte didn’t always enjoy a steady stream of good reviews. In fact, the opera only began to acquire its modern state of popularity following the conclusion of World War II in 1945. Nor was the opera frowned upon when it premiered in Vienna during the late 18th century; so what happened? Well, it seems that sensibilities in Europe during this century were much more liberal than they would be later on. Where once audiences had shown no qualms about a production examining infidelity and the fickle nature of young love, in the 19th and early 20th century these topics came to be considered vulgar and immoral. Consequently, Così fan tutte was rarely performed during this period, except in exceedingly bowdlerized forms.
Name that Tune:
Because we’re so familiar with the sound of Mozart’s music, its surface level elegance and beauty, it is easy to forget that it also functions to highlight the drama of the opera. In fact, if you listen closely, the melancholy, joyful, and vengeful emotions of the characters are all communicated with great specificity in the music. The arias of Despina, for example, make use of pastoral phrases, illustrating the housemaid’s common status. Compare this to the music surrounding the noble sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, which is drawn directly from the opera seria style at vogue in Vienna at the time of composition. These arias instead call for an incredible vocal range and ornamental orchestral flourishes. The clever Quintet “Di scrivermi ogni giorno” is on the surface a lovely example of an 18th century ‘addio’ piece, with two women bidding their lovers farewell in long elegant phrases, and the young men returning their sentiments in similarly moving lines. Look a little closer, however, and you will notice the contrast that the fifth singer, the skeptic Don Alfonso, brings to the ensemble. Indeed, you find him mocking the overwrought expressions of the young couples, ending the piece with a knowing chuckle.
Così fan tutte
Feb. 10 & 12, 2017