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Così fan tutte marks the final collaboration between W. A. Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, often overshadowed by the popularity and ubiquity of its predecessors Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. Despite this general lack of public acclaim throughout its history, a deeper examination into its background and music reveals an opera of craftsmanship and beauty no less deserving than the other two parts of the “amorous” trilogy. A look into the last years of Mozart life exhibit his mastery in writing opera buffa, with his technique and style culminating into that of Così fan tutte. The origin and

conception of Così fan tutte lead into a look at Mozart’s approach in setting the text to music, taking as example of such musical-dramatic synthesis, the Act I finale. Traditionally less accessible than Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (but no less rewarding), Così fan tutte is a virtuosic display of ensemble writing that reveals Mozart’s wit and brilliance in his last opera buffa where the profound and the absurd intertwine like the opera’s lovers themselves.

Mozart’s Last Years The premiere of Così fan tutte dates to 26 January 1790; in less than two years Mozart will not live to see the completion of his Requiem Mass in D minor, and undoubtedly – to the world’s loss – much more. At 36 years of age Mozart had accomplished more than what most mortals would in several lifetimes. Yet he was just reaching the heights of his compositional powers just before his untimely death. A look into his last years reveals works that have become cornerstones in the piano, chamber, symphonic, operatic, and choral repertories:


Symphony No. 41 in C, “Jupiter”, K. 551 Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581 Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat, K. 595 Ave verum corpus, K. 618 Die Zauberflöte, K. 620 Requiem in D -minor, K. 625

August, 1788 1 September 1789 January 1791 June 1791 September 1791


In the two (and final) operas written after Così fan tutte, Mozart returned to genres that he had earlier triumphed before his work in opera buffa with Da Ponte: opera seria (Idomeneo, re di Creta, 1781) and Singspiel (Die Entführung aus dem Serail, 1782). Mozart’s last opera seria commission resulted in La Clemenza di Tito. Mozart received the commission from the impresario of the Prague National Theatre in July 1791 (for the occasion of the coronation of Leopold II as king of Bohemia on 6 September of that year). Like many of the pieces written during Mozart’s last year, La Clemenza di Tito was produced at a breakneck pace – eighteen days. Despite its rushed composition, Mozart’s expertise and originality in ensemble writing from his previous work with Da Ponte is prevalent throughout the opera 2 . His final opera – Die Zauberflöte – premeiered in September 1791, though the bulk of its composition was finished before La Clemenza di Tito. The commission was from Emanuel Schikaneder (the librettist and first Papageno) for his theatrical troupe. The opera was a cornucopia of musical theatre with elements of buffa and seria, popular appeal in streetsongs and hymms, prominent spoken text, and virtuosic coloratura vocal writing. The opera is also considered enigmatic due to its allegorical references to Freemasonry (of which Mozart was a member) whose meanings are continued to be

1 Completion dates. 2 As one of the arguments given by William Mann for the case that the opera is indeed worthy of Mozart in spite of its shortcomings, e.g. weak drama and simple orchestration (Willam Mann, The Operas of Mozart, Oxford University Press, 1977: 588-589).


debated 3 . Musically idiosyncratic as well, its “oddities of rhythm and harmony and [sic] texture and instrumentation” 4 suggest that Die Zauberflöte is the most experimental of Mozart’s operas. It was four years before Così fan tutte when Mozart had first approached Da Ponte – Court Poet and Librettist to the Imperial Theatre – in Vienna for collaboration:

the setting of Beaumarchais’ controversial Figaro 5 . At the time Mozart was becoming a rising musical presence at the court of Joseph II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Yet a permanent position in the court eluded him. Mozart’s apparent lack of political acumen made him vulnerable to the scheming of such court officials as Count von Rosenberg 6 and Antonio Salieri 7 . However Da Ponte’s reputed influence on Joseph II eventually won over the case in producing and staging Le nozze di Figaro despite the banned status of Beaumarchais’ play – and thus began the fruitful relationship resulting in their celebrated triptych. Despite the acclamation of Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna – as exemplified by the emperor’s ban on excessive encores following a particularly receptive performance – the opera garnered only eight performances after its premiere on 1 May 1786. It was however the wildly successful productions the following year in Prague that led to the commission

  • 3 See “La Clemenza di Sarastro: Masonic Beneficence in the Last Operas” in Daniel Heartz’s, Mozart’s Operas, University of California Press, 1990: 255 -275.

  • 4 William Mann, The Operas of Mozart: 640.

  • 5 La folle journée, ou Le marriage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, first staged in 1784, Paris.

  • 6 Grand Chamberlain of the Court and Director of the Imperial Theatres; Da Pointe recorded in his Memoirs an intriguing attempt by Rosenberg to remove music from the Act III ballet to Le nozze di Figaro (Lorenzo Da Ponte, Memoirs, New York Review of Books, 2000: 138-140).

  • 7 Despite the historical inaccuracies of Salieri’s ro le in Mozart’s death as vividly portrayed in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (as well as the Milos Forman film), court composer Salieri however was not innocent in obstructing the musical career of Mozart in Vienna; Mozart himself pointed out an instance of such intrigue in a letter dated 29 December 1789 inviting fellow Freemason Michael Puchberg (and frequent monetary lender) to a rehearsal of Così fan tutte in the presence of Joseph Haydn: “I shall tell you when we meet about Salieri’s plots, which, however, have completely failed already.” (Andrew Steptoe, The Mozart Da-Ponte Operas, Oxford University Press, 1988: 5-6.)


for a second Mozart-Da Ponte opera: Don Giovanni. Mozart’s estranged father Leopold, died the spring before the premiere of Don Giovanni, foreshadowing the difficult year following Mozart’s return from Prague. As a recurring theme throughout his life, financial difficulty 8 was especially crippling – with few commissions and pupils alike – as well as the ailing health of his wife Constanze. In April 1789 Mozart traveled to Berlin to explore career possibilities, stopping along the way at Prague and Leipzig. At Leipzig Mozart played the organ at Bach’s St. Thomas church in the presence of a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach, who “was delighted and thought that his old master had been resurrected”. 9 In Potsdam King Friedrich Wilhelm II granted an audience to Mozart, commissioning six string quartets (the king was a cellist) and six piano sonatas for Princess Friedericke (he only completed three of the quartets and one of the sonatas). The king reportedly offered a post as Kapellmeister to Mozart however it was turned down out of loyalty to Joseph II 10 . Nevertheless Mozart entertained the idea of relocating among Prague, Berlin, and London, however by the beginning of June Mozart returned to Vienna with no intentions of leaving his beloved city. 11

Toward a School for Lovers Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni are both critically and popularly acclaimed staples of opera houses throughout the world since their respective premieres, their musical brilliance universally agreed upon. In particular it is the perfection of Mozart’s

8 A detailed account of the financial life of Mozart is prominently integrated throughout Maynard Solomon’s study: Mozart, a Life (HarperCollins, 1995). 9 Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Mozart, Da Capo Press, 1978: 280. 10 Mann briefly discusses the possible career opportunities for Mozart on this trip. (Willam Mann, The Operas of Mozart: 521) 11 Interestingly Mann entertained the idea that “If he had moved, with his family, to Prague, Berlin, or London he could well have lived to a ripe age.” (Ibid.) – To the world’s gain, undoubtedly.


ensemble writing that sets him apart from his contemporaries, a necessity perhaps from the numerous characters and dramatic content in Da Ponte’s librettos. Furthermore it is the ensemble where the synthesis of the music and text is most pronounced. It is in this respect where Così fan tutte upon examination can be regarded as the paragon of the ensemble opera, being a worthy offspring of Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (two other expositions on love). In fact it is due to the success of a revival of Le nozze di Figaro ordered by the Emporer in July 1789 that prompted the royal commission that conceived Così fan tutte. However the commission itself is not well-documented, prompting much speculation, one of which (debunked by Bruce Alan Brown 12 ) proposes that Joseph II expressively commissioned the libretto to be based on sensational gossip of a real incident in Vienna at the time involving two officers and their lovers. Nevertheless two officers and their lovers are the central characters to Da Ponte’s libretto, La Scuola degli Amanti 13 .


La Scuola degli Amanti is set in two-acts consisting of six characters: Fiordiligi Dorabella, Despina, Ferrando, Guglielmo, and Don Alfonso. Ferrando and Guglielmo are two officers betrothed respectively to the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. Don Alfonso is a friend of the officers, who after hearing the men boast of the virtues of their fiancées, proposes a wager to test the fidelities of the women since he believes that all women are suspect. The wager involves a charade where the officers pretend to be called away to the battlefield but in actuality disguise themselves as exotic Albanians and attempt to seduce

12 B.A. Brown, W.A. Mozart: ‘Cosí fan tutte’, Cambridge University Press, 1995: 9-10. 13 The original title, before becoming: Così fan tutte, ossia La Scuola degli Amanti [Thus Do All women, or the School for Lovers].


each other’s fiancées. Don Alfonso enlists the help of the sisters’ maid Despina in the courting of the Albanians though he does not reveal their identities. After numerous attempts, the “Albanians” (to their dismay) succeed, and following a mock-wedding finally reveal their true identities to the shock of all three women. Saddened but wiser, the lovers look forward to reconciliation. The Libretto It is interesting to note that Così fan tutte is only one of Da Ponte’s two librettos that he did not directly adapt from a play; the other is L’arbore di Diana for Vicente Martín y Soler. Having not developed much original material in his career, Da Ponte resorted to his strengths in literary references and textual quotations. The essentials of the plot are not new: using disguise to test a woman’s fidelity goes back to the myth of Cephalus and Procris in the seventh book of Ovid’s Metemorphoses, with Boccaccio (De claris mulieribus) and Ariosto (Orlando furioso) each providing their own versions. The wager theme has also been used in Boccaccio’s Decameron and in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline 14 . In Da Ponte’s version of the wager/disguise/test story, the relationships among the six characters are devised with strong symmetry and duality in mind. The opera can be seen in the context of the Age of Reason as an experiment 15 where the two pairs of

14 Extensive details on other significant sources of Da Ponte’s libretto – including Metastasio and Beaumarchais – is discussed in: Bruce Alan Brown, “Beaumarchais, Paisiello, and the Genesis of Cosí fan tutte”, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Essays on His Life and Music, ed. Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 1996; B.A. Brown: “The Sources of An ‘Original Libretto”, in W.A. Mozart: ‘Cosí fan tutte’: 57-81; and Daniel Heartz, “Citation, Reference, and Recall in Così fan tutte ”, Mozart’s Operas: 229-253. 15 It is with respect to the ideals of the Enlightenment such as that of “man studied with the exactitude of a machine” where Così fan tutte is suggested as closer to Die Zauberflöte than the other Da Ponte operas, i.e. the achievement of wisdom through a test (Nicholas Till, Mozart and the Enlightenment, London: 229-257. Scott Burnham argues however that Così fan tutte is in fact a “powerful critique of Enlightenment notions of reason and human nature” where “the juxtaposition of libretto and music ultimately implies no less a


subjects in the two sisters and two officers start off paired with their fiancés, later swapped to each others’ lovers, and then return to the original pairing; the two observers of the experiment in Don Alfonso and Despina maintain relationships with the men and women respectively that mirrors each others’ 16 .

Figure 1: Outline of Così fan tutte

subjects in the two sisters and two officers start off paired with their fiancés, later swapped

Source: Steptoe, The Mozart – Da Ponte Operas: 133

The libretto started out in existential limbo: six characters in search of a composer. Salieri was approached and he even set the first two numbers of the opera to

theme than the birth of consciousness and the fall of Man.” (Scott Burnham, “Mozart’s felix culpa: Così fan tutte and the Irony of Beauty”, Musical Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 1, Spring 1994: 77.) 16 Steptoe provides an insightful diagram of the relationships depicting such symmetries and dualities (see Figure 1).


music 17 . Interviewed in 1829, Constanze Mozart recalled that “Salieri’s enmity arose

from Mozart’s setting the Così fan tutte which he had originally commenced and given up as unworthy [of] musical invention.” 18 Salieri may have deemed the text ill-suited to write music for; Mozart proves otherwise.

The Music

Where Da Ponte borrowed from his vast literary background, Mozart borrowed musically from his earlier works (as well as from other composers such as Paisiello 19 ) and arguably biographically as well: Mozart experienced a bit of “swapping lovers”, having been involved with the sisters Aloysia and Constanze Weber, the later of course became his wife. With six characters divided evenly among men and women, Mozart set the voice- types to the characters as follows:




soprano (mezzo-soprano) 20


soprano (mezzo-soprano)




bass (baritone or bass-baritone)

Don Alfonso


In particular the role of Guglielmo was troublesome to Mozart. Francesco Benucci, the first Figaro and the first Viennese Leporello, was also the first Guglielmo. Hailed as the finest basso buffo of his time, Mozart was conflicted in showcasing Bennuci’s talents

  • 17 Based upon a recent discovery in July 1994 by John Rice in the M usic Collection of the Austrian National Library; B.A. Brown, W.A. Mozart: ‘Cosí fan tutte’: 10, 184 n. 9.

  • 18 Ibid: 10.

  • 19 See B.A. Brown, “Beaumarchais, Paisiello, and the Genesis of Così fan tutte”, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Essays on His Life and Music .

  • 20 The voice-types in parenthesis correspond to casting practices after the 19th-century.


without infringing upon the opera’s aesthetic, hence Guglielmo’s short first act aria ‘Non siate ritriosi’ (No. 15) replaced the long but impressive ‘Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo’ 21 . As an offspring, Così fan tutte in fact carries a musical gene from Le nozze di Figaro. In the Act I trio (No. 14) of Figaro consisting of Susanna, Count Almaviva, and Basilio, Mozart reuses the trill motif where Basilio sings ‘Così fan tutte le belle’ (see Example 1a) prominently throughout Così’s overture (Ex. 1b). Stylistically the prominence of the ensemble is derived from Figaro’s as well, in particular drawing from Figaro’s Act II and IV finales as well as the Act III Sextet.

Example 1a: Le Nozze di Figaro, Act I, No. 14 (Trio), mm. 161-163

without infringing upon the opera’s aesthetic, hence Guglielmo’s short first act aria ‘Non siate ritriosi’ (No.

Ex. 1b: Così fan tutte, Overture, mm. 35-37

without infringing upon the opera’s aesthetic, hence Guglielmo’s short first act aria ‘Non siate ritriosi’ (No.

In the Act II finale of Così fan tutte for example Mozart crowned such perfection with baroque counterpoint: a three-part canon 22 in A-flat major is used in the Larghetto section toasting to the (mock) wedding ‘E nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero’ (mm. 173-204). Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and Ferrando sing the three-part canon looking forward to the future while Guglielmo, left out of the canon, grumbles that they should be drinking poison instead. Charles Osborne suggests that Mozart relieved Guglielmo canon figure

21 Mozart later published the piece as a concert aria (K.584). Daniel Heartz goes into detail the justification of the revision based upon both musical and literary grounds (Daniel Heartz, “When Mozart Revises: The Case of Guglielmo in Cosí fan tutte”, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Essays on His Life and Music , ed. Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 1996). 22 The challenge of incorporating such counterpoint appealed not only to Mozart; Beethoven modeled his canon ‘Mir ist’s so wunderbar’ from Fidelio after Mozart’s Larghetto, and in his schwanengesang Verdi ended his Falstaff with a fugue ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ [‘Everything in the world’s a jest’] – in the profound and absurd spirit of Mozart.


due to the high tessitura that reaches A-flat 23 (Ex. 2) – bearing in mind that the first Guglielmo is Benucci, a primo basso buffo, but a basso nonetheless. William Mann on the other hand explains Guglielmo’s exclusion due not to such musical limitations (of the A-flat, “Mozart could have fudged that if he had wanted” 24 ) but rather to psychological and dramatic ones. Charles Rosen draws upon eighteenth-century comedy and psychology to strengthen this idea 25 .

Ex. 2: Così fan tutte, Act II, No. 31 (Finale), Larghetto

due to the high tessitura that reaches A- flat (Ex. 2) – bearing in mind that

In Mozart’s music, complex and even contradictory emotions are achieved, via the classical style:

“The emotional complexity of the classical language is what makes the operas of Mozart possible. Even irony was possible in music now, as E.T.A. Hoffman remarked of Così fan tutte.26

It will be in the context of such musical-dramatic synthesis where a prime example of the ensembles of Così fan tutte will be examined: the Act I Finale. The Act I Finale

The finale to the first act (No. 18) is comprised of seven subsections of three scenes (Scenes 14, 15, and 16). In many ways it is a self-contained unit within the opera

as a whole: the drama introduces and resolves its very own plot device, and the music

  • 23 Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Mozart: 292.

  • 24 William Mann, The Operas of Mozart: 560.

  • 25 Charles Rosen, The Classical Style, W.W. Norton, 1997: 315.

  • 26 Ibid: 80.


reflects the action forming a closed tonal plan (the piece begins and ends in D major), creating a structure 27 that maintains continuity.

Fig. 2: Structure to Finale I






text incipit





Fi, Do




Ah che tutto in un momento

  • 8 E



+ Fe, G, A



Si mora, sì, si mora

  • 7 A



Ah che del sole il raggio



(+ D)



Giacchè a morir vicini

  • 7 A



– D, A

Dei che cimento è questo






Ah! / Sospiran gl’infelici

  • 8 A



Più domestiche e trattabili



+ D, A




Eccovi il medico

  • 5 A




Attorno guardano







Dove son, che loco è questo

  • 8 A/E








Dammi un bacio o mio tesoro

  • 8 A/E



Un quadretto più giocondo


Source: Brown, W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte : 150

Despite the fact that Mozart’s finales tend to have a higher level of tonal organization than that of his contemporaries, John Platoff debunks a certain view that the perceived greatness in such music is in fact due not to the high-level of tonal coherence but rather to the “extraordinary fitness of their musical gestures to the dramatic moment” 28 . With Scene 14 (“Ah, che tutta in un momento”) the finale begins: Fiordiligi and Dorabella sing a duet lamenting their distress by the non-presence (and presence) of Ferrando and Guglielmo (and their Albanian guises). The key of D major is set, the duet itself marked in 2/4, andante. In addition to being a trumpet-key (in preparation for the

  • 27 See Figure 2 for the Act I finale structure in a concise table format.

  • 28 The particular piece of music in question is the Act II finale from Le nozze di Figaro, a work similar in length to the Act I finale from Così fan tutte. Both pieces are distinguished examples of the ‘buffo’ finale, with the finale from Figaro drawing special attention to itself due to its unique tonal structure (John Platoff, “Tonal Organization in ‘Buffo’ Finales and the Act II Finale of Le nozze di Figaro”, Music and Letters, vol. 72 no. 3 (Aug. 1991): 387-403).


rousing conclusion to the act), Brown 29 suggests that D major was also chosen with respect to the global tonal organization: C – D – C (overture – finale I – finale II); corresponding to that of the neighbor-note relationship of the Così-trill prevalent throughout the overture (Ex. 1b). As a function of differentiating sections while maintaining continuity, the wind section changes throughout the piece to provide contrasting textures between the movements, beginning first with the flute, bassoon, and French horn. The women sing to evoke pity, the music consisting of long sweeping phrases yet they are mocked by the Così-trill motif from the flutes supported by the horns, foreshadowing the cuckolding of their lovers (Ex. 3). Mozart’s sense of parody can be inferred from this figure to suggest that such “cuckolding” goes hand-in-hand with the thesis of the opera: “Così fan tutte”.

Ex. 3: Act I, No. 18 (Finale), mm. 56 -58

rousing conclusion to the act), Brown suggests that D major was also chosen with respect to

The duet is in ABA form sung to two stanzas of verse, the first stanza repeated. Andrew Steptoe argues that the three duets of Fiordiligi and Dorabella are examples of how the sonata form provides a succinct structure for characterization and complex

29 B.A. Brown, W.A. M ozart: Così fan tutte, Cambridge, 1995: 100.


expression, drawing comparison to the Adagios of the Double Concerto, K. 365 and the Sonata for Two pianos, K. 448 30 . The exposition evokes the thematic material of their earlier trio with Don Alfonso in “Soave sia il vento” (No. 10). The sensual melodic figures parallel each other in shape (Ex. 4) as well as the text in metaphorical reference, however the emotional content diverges:

Ex. 4a: No. 10 (Trio: “Soave sia il vento”), mm. 2-6

expression, drawing comparison to the Adagios of the Double Concerto, K. 365 and the Sonata for

Ex. 4b: No. 18 (Finale), mm. 18 -22

expression, drawing comparison to the Adagios of the Double Concerto, K. 365 and the Sonata for

From No. 10 Trio

Soave sia il vento Tranquilla sia l’onda

From No. 18 Duet

Ah, che un mar pien di tormento

È la vita omai per me!

Gentle be the breeze calm be the waves

Ah what a sea of torment is life henceforth for me!

The private atmosphere of the D major duet is interrupted by the Albanian guises of Ferrando and Guglielmo threatening suicide; the music makes a seamless transition to this next scene (Scene 15: “Si mora sì, si mora”, mm. 62-138) to G minor in cut time, allegro. This scene is comprised of three sections corresponding to three tonal regions: G

30 Andrew Steptoe, The Mozart – Da Ponte Operas, Oxford, 1988: 214-221.


minor – E-flat major – C minor. The dramatic plot device is introduced here as a comic ruse attempting to direct the pity of Fiordiligi and Dorabella toward the Albanians; Ferrando and Guglielmo incognito down arsenic, claiming that it will set them free from the cruelty of the sisters. Sergio Durante 31 has emphasized the importance of the musical detail of the “death figure” (mm. 33-39; Ex. 5a) in Fiordigli’s aria “Como scolgio” (No. 14) and that of the identical figure where the Albanians drink the mock-poison (mm. 73-90; Ex. 5b):

in “Come scoglio” the figure is used no less than five times and in the latter case is used in an abrupt modulation from G minor to B-flat major: the key of “Come scoglio” 32 . It is the accompanying text to the “death figure” that reveals the beginning of the loss of innocence for the two sisters and their respective lovers. In Fiordigli’s aria the text is as follows: “e potrà la morte sola / far che cangi affetto il cor” [“And perhaps only death can make the heart change its affections”]. Hence the attempted “suicide” on the part of Guglielmo (and Ferrando) is in fact fulfilling the foreshadowing of Fiordiligi’s words. In the orchestra the texture changes to accommodate the action: the horns of the duet are replaced by the trumpets to accompany the outburst of the Albanians, and the oboe is introduced. The music also reflects the heightened sense of the alarm of the sisters in the arpeggiated triplets of the violins, an alarm at both the consequences and motivations of the poisoning. Don Alfonso is accomplice to the mock-poisoning (as he is masterminding the entire charade), and the section ends in a tutti passage of the quintet, leading into the second section.

31 Sergio Durante, “Analysis and Dramaturgy: Reflections Towards a Theory of Opera”, in Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna, ed. Mary Hunter and James Webster, Cambridge, 1997: 316-318. 32 Mozart’s use of thematic reminiscences as a way of unifying the score and emphasizing ironic connections is discussed by Steptoe (The Mozart – Da Ponte Operas: 213-215).


Ex. 5a: No. 14 (Aria: “Como scoglio”), mm. 33 -39

Ex. 5a: No. 14 (Aria: “Como scoglio”), mm. 33 -39 Ex. 5b: No. 18 (Finale), mm.

Ex. 5b: No. 18 (Finale), mm. 73 -80

Ex. 5a: No. 14 (Aria: “Como scoglio”), mm. 33 -39 Ex. 5b: No. 18 (Finale), mm.


The second section of Scene 15 (“Giacchè a morir vicini”, mm. 138-198) begins with Don Alfonso encouraging the sisters in their show of pity to the “near-death” Albanians (as well as encouraging the success of his wager). Without changing the meter and tempo, G minor turns to E-flat major. The horns return replacing the trumpet and the clarinet is introduced, replacing the flute and oboe. The distressed sisters call Despina for help. Despina – enlisted by Don Alfonso to assist in the seduction of the sisters by the Albanians’ (but unaware of their real identities) – gives a grim prognosis on the comatose Albanians, and encourages the sisters to give care and aid to the men while she leave with Don Alfonso to seek a doctor with an antidote for the poison. By now the sisters are quite shaken by the turn of events, and the men comment aside on the comic spectacle that has unraveled, ending the section in a tutti passage of the quartet, leading into the third section. Again, meter and tempo remain consistent going into the third and last section of Scene 15 (Ferrando, Guglielmo: “Ah!” / Fiordiligi, Dorabella: “Sospiran gli infelici”, mm. 218-292) however E-flat major moves to C minor. The men feign a sigh to draw the sister’s attention closer to them and the women approach cautiously. The wind section has been stripped to just the bassoon, and along with the strings, plays a skeletal variation of the Così-motif (Ex. 6a). This variation has numerous modulations, climbing to and momentarily staying on A-flat major (mm. 240-43) immediately following Dorabella’s “Che figure interessanti!” [“Their faces are quite interesting!”] (Ex. 6b) 33 while accompanying Fiordiligi’s “Possiam farci un poco avanti.”

33 Charles Rosen uses this example in the orchestra where it plays a long double fugue one voice at a time (later becoming a genuine and rich polyphony) to illustrate that “the surprising combination of baroque contrapuntal movement and the thinnest of opera buffa textures once again holds the finest of balances between seriousness and comedy.” (Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: 317).


[“We could go a little nearer.”] If it wasn’t obvious onstage that the sisters are beginning to let down their guard, the music provides subtle hints.

Ex. 6a: No. 18 (Finale), mm. 218 -222

[“We could go a little nearer.”] If it wasn’t obvious onstage that the sisters are beginning

Ex. 6b: No. 18 (Finale), mm. 238 -44

[“We could go a little nearer.”] If it wasn’t obvious onstage that the sisters are beginning

The sisters gravitate to each other’s fiancé to feel their foreheads and check their pulses. Ending the section is a quartet; the women stricken with pity towards the dying Albanians and the men concerned that this pity might turn into love. As the development section of the finale musically and dramatically, Brown considers this section to be the


turning point of the opera 34 . What started off as a simple and harmless charade is beginning to turn complicated and concerning, the music expressing both sentiments in the tutti passage of the quartet. Ending with a rest, the lovers are allowed a brief moment to gain repose before the final section. In the first section of the third and final scene (Scene 16: “Eccovi il medico”, mm. 292-429) the finale shifts gears. Like the previous scene, this one has three sections corresponding to three tonal regions: G major – B-flat major – D major. Giving only a glimpse of the impending complications of the charade in the previous C-minor section, Mozart does not elaborate on the serious but instead changes directions towards the comic. Set in G major at 3/4, allegro, the first section introduces the doctor in the form of a disguised Despina – the charade now truly becoming un ballo in maschera, albeit with two failed self -“assassination” attempts. In the return to the comic, the flutes, oboes, and horns return to join the bassoon. Unlike Despina’s unawareness of the Albanians’ true identities, Ferrando and Guglielmo instantly recognize the maid incognito. The music provides a hint as well in another instance of thematic recall: Don Alfonso uses the same motif as in Despina’s introductory aria (No. 12) “In uomini” (Ex. 7a), and this figure forms the basis of all the themes in this section (Ex. 7b). To the annoyance of Don Alfonso, Despina takes upon her new role with a bit of flamboyance – addressing the women in incorrect Latin and listing a few uncommon languages that she claims to speak 35 .

34 B.A. Brown, W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte: 40. 35 In preparation for the impending parody, among the languages (Greek, Arabic, Turkish, Tartar, Vandal …) that Despina boasts fluency of is that of Swabian, the dialect of the famous healer Franz Anton Mesmer, who interestingly had patronized the 12 -year-old Mozart and was later officially debunked in 1784 by a French government commission (with Benjamin Franklin as on e of its members no less). Brown discusses in detail Mesmer’s topicality (B.A. Brown, W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte: 15-16).


Ex. 7a: No. 12 (Aria: “In uomini”), mm. 25-27

Ex. 7a: No. 12 (Aria: “In uomini”), mm. 25-27 Ex. 7b: No. 18 (Finale) After being

Ex. 7b: No. 18 (Finale)

Ex. 7a: No. 12 (Aria: “In uomini”), mm. 25-27 Ex. 7b: No. 18 (Finale) After being

After being reminded by Don Alfonso of the task on hand, Despina questions the sisters about the poison, and then proceeds with a Mesmerian treatment consisting of a magnet. A variant of the Così-trill is used by Despina to a comic effect bordering along the absurd 36 , with the trill (doubled by the strings) coinciding with the word “celebre” and also over a fermata with the word “Francia” in the phrase:

Questo è quel pezzo di calamita, pietra mesmerica, ch’ebbe l’origine nell’Alemanna che poi sì celebre là in Francia fu.

This is that piece of magnet, Mesmer’s stone, that originated in Germany, then was so famous there in France.

Clearly Mozart is having a bit of fun with this infamous patron of his youth. Despina touches the Albanians with the magnet and waves it over their bodies, and the sisters are astonished to see the men reacting to the “treatment” with twisting and shaking of their bodies. Despina instructs the sisters to hold the foreheads of the Albanians, and – lo and behold – the men are cured. Ending the section is again a tutti passage of a trio consisting of the sisters and Don Alfonso commenting that “Ah, questo medico / Vale un Perù!” [Ah, this doctor’s worth / all the gold in Peru!]

36 Indeed it is this particular recall that reinforces another name given to the Così-trill by Daniel Heartz:

“absurd trill” (Daniel Heartz, Mozart’s Operas: 222).


As the Albanians “awake” from their invalid states (“Dove son, che loco è questo”, mm. 429-485), B-flat major in common time, andante, characterizes this next section. Trying to keep themselves from laughing, Ferrando and Guglielmo continue their amorous advances toward each other’s lovers in parallel duet. The orchestral texture has changed by replacing the horns with trumpets while giving the oboe a rest. In another example of thematic recall, Steptoe 37 suggests that the phrase “Chi è colui? Color chi sono?” [“Who is he? Who are they?”] (Ex. 8b) – is part of the chronology of the phrase from the Act I quintet (No. 6): “Dorabella: Ah, no, no, non partirai! / Fiordiligi: No, credel, non te n’andrai!” [“Dorabella: No, no, do not go! / Fiordiligi: Cruel one, do not leave me!”] (Ex. 8a) – which can be regarded as a chronology of Fiordiligi’s and Dorabella’s passions. It appears next in Fiordiligi’s surrender to Ferrando in the Act II duet “Fra gli amplessi” (No. 29; Ex. 8c) and lastly in the Act II Finale (Ex. 8d).

Ex. 8a: No. 6 (Quintet), mm. 36 -8

As the Albanians “awake” from their invalid states (“Dove son, che loco è questo”, mm. 429-485),

Ex. 8b: No. 18 (Finale), mm. 434 -5

As the Albanians “awake” from their invalid states (“Dove son, che loco è questo”, mm. 429-485),

37 Andrew Steptoe, The Mozart – Da Ponte Operas: 213-214.


Ex. 8c: Act II, No. 29, mm. 101 -2

Ex. 8c: Act II, No. 29, mm. 101 -2 Ex. 8d: No. 31 (Finale), mm. 426

Ex. 8d: No. 31 (Finale), mm. 426 -7

Ex. 8c: Act II, No. 29, mm. 101 -2 Ex. 8d: No. 31 (Finale), mm. 426

In this section the symmetries and dualities of the opera are summed up perfectly in the sextet that is formed in pairs: Fiordiligi and Dorabella as the distressed sisters; Ferrando and Guglielmo as the criss-crossed lovers; Despina and Don Alfonso as the meddling co-conspirators. Ending this section again in a tutti passage, the next and final section returns back to D major in cut time, allegro (“Dammi un bacio o mio tesoro”, mm. 485-544). A return to D major coincides with a return to the melodic material in the opening D major duet to the finale, this time ascending to the dominant instead of the subdominant before descending. The entire wind section is employed as well as the timpani. Sensing weakness in their prey, Ferrando and Guglielmo make their move on each other’s lovers by requesting a kiss, and the sisters respond with outrage. The tension is heightened with the use of trumpets, horns, and timpani while accompanying the ascending motives, pauses on ‘Stelle, un bacio?’ [‘Heavens, a kiss?’] and shifts into the submediant [B-flat major] on ‘Tardi inver vi pentirete’ [Truly you will repent too late’]. Despina and Don Alfonso comment on the hilarity of the scene, predicting that the fire


that fuels this rage and fury will change to that of love. Ferrando and Guglielmo enjoy the comic spectacle as well, yet are unsure if this fury is either feigned or sincere. The musical dialogue alternates amongst duets and quartets before moving to the contrapuntal sextets where Fiordiligi (and later Ferrando) provide tension-building coloratura. The tension climaxes at the Presto section whereupon the ascending melodic motives become descending in tutti before the orchestra takes over for a brilliant and dynamic coda.

Profound Absurdity

In spite of its musical merits, Così fan tutte’s beginnings in existential limbo did not end once the composer was found; six characters in search of a composer became six characters in search of an opera. In the nineteenth-century the opera had deviated from Mozart’s original and was performed in variety of changes that included drastic cuts to the score 38 and changes to the libretto. Indeed many found it difficult to justify the opera’s so-called banal and trivial text; some were outright condemning:

‘O, how doubly dear and above honour is Mozart to me,’ wrote Wagner in Opera and drama, ‘that it was not possible for him to invent music for Tito like that of Don Giovanni, for Cosi [sic] fan tutte like that to Figaro! How shamefully would it have desecrated Music!’ 39

Like most maligned operas of the past, Così fan tutte’s revival came in the twentieth-century, especially during the early-music movement in the second half. Traditional cuts were restored, with some productions even reinstating ‘Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo’. Stage direction began to take into account the symmetries of the plot. What had offended 19 th -century sensibilities appealed to postmodern interpreters. Così fan tutte was no longer a banal sexual farce but instead a drama of complex psychology; the absurd

38 Indeed the Dover score to Così fan tutte is a reproduction of the 1941 Schünemann and Soldan’s edition containing such ‘usual’ cuts. 39 B.A. Brown, W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte: 172.


had become profound. Mozart knew this all along, and the music is a subtle expression of this relationship. Così fan tutte, is the consummation of not only the fruitful marriage between Mozart and da Ponte, but of the perfect marriage between the music and the text as well.



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