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Così fan tutte
PREMIERE1/26/1790 — Burgtheater (Vienna)
COMPOSERWolfgang Amadeus Mozart   
LIBRETTISTLorenzo Da Ponte   
 
Synopsis
Act I

Scene one - A coffee shop. Don Alfonso questions the fidelity of Fiordiligi and Dorabella, whose goodness Guglielmo and Ferrando vehemently affirm. A skeptical Alfonso suggests the two officers put their girlfriends to the test. A wager of a hundred zecchini is at stake, and the two young men already plan how to spend what they believe to be easy money -- Ferrando will hire a band of players to serenade his beloved, while Guglielmo will throw a lavish party. They accept the challenge.

Scene two -- A garden near the seashore. Fiordiligi and Dorabella admire miniatures of their respective boyfriends, whom they compare to Adonis and Apollo. Fiordiligi suddenly has a strange sense of apprehension, and shortly after, Don Alfonso drops in with some dreadful news. Guglielmo and Ferrando have been called up for active duty and must depart that very morning. As the two soldiers arrive to bid farewell, the ladies swoon, knowing they will languish in their lovers' absence. The men promise to write often and depart to the march of a soldiers' chorus. Don Alfonso is pleased with the progress of his plan.

Scene three -- A room inside the villa.Despina prepares her ladies' breakfast chocolate with disdain. She steals a tiny sip and is nearly caught by the two sisters, who enter despairingly. Once familiar with the cause of their distress, Despina shrugs it off. Why not look at the bright side and take new lovers in their stead - that's what they are likely to do. She has found one can't find constancy in soldiers or gentlemen. Both women are shocked at the suggestion.

Don Alfonso sees Despina as a valuable ally to his plan, but he can't trust her with all the details. He finds that a little money will make her a willing accomplice. She agrees to make the villa accessible to two Albanian soldiers, who are entranced by the ladies. Despina meets them at the door and is surprised by their unusual appearance -- she does not recognize the disguised Guglielmo and Ferrando.

Fiordiligi and Dorabella are angered by the intrusion of the suitors, who immediately and inappropriately profess their love. The two men pretend to recognize Don Alfonso as their former tutor, but this extra credibility does not lend itself to the opinion of the two sisters. They order them out of their house of virtue. Further pleading does not break the ladies' indomitable will, and they brusquely leave the room. Guglielmo and Ferrando are reassured by their lovers' steadfast devotion. The day is not over yet, observes Alfonso. They must pursue the sisters to the garden. He confers with Despina, who is certain her vapid employers will eventually capitulate. They strategize their next move.

Scene four -- The garden. Fiordiligi and Dorabella overhear the men's desperate cries -- if the ladies won't have them, then death is the only alternative. Appearing before them, Guglielmo and Ferrando each take a draught of arsenic. Horrified, the sisters have Despina fetch a doctor and try to comfort the dying men. The doctor soon arrives (really Despina in disguise) and provides a fashionable cure using a large magnet. It works like a charm, and the men begin to revive, begging for a kiss to ensure a complete recovery. The indignant sisters refuse.

Act II

Scene one -- A room. Despina continues to deride her employers' priggish attitudes -- why not enjoy a little harmless fun while their boyfriends are away? If people talk, the sisters can claim the men were calling upon her. Dorabella is the first to see reason. They should seek a brief diversion to alleviate their melancholy. Once their beaus are back, the affairs will be over. She'll take the dark one (Guglielmo) while Fiordiligi may have the fair one (Ferrando). Scene two -- A garden near the seashore. Still disguised, Guglielmo and Ferrando have hired a barge with musicians, and serenade their paramours. The sisters are quite taken aback and need a little more coaxing from Don Alfonso and Despina. The plan now is to divide and conquer. Privately, Guglielmo gives Dorabella a heart-shaped pendant, exchanging it for the miniature of Ferrando. Fiordiligi is more resistant, yet is forced to wrestle with her conscience after Ferrando's frank admission of love. The two men compare notes, and Ferrando is shocked to discover his miniature in Guglielmo's possession. He is crushed by Dorabella's faithlessness and Guglielmo provides little comfort.

Scene three -- A room. Dorabella confides in Despina her recent acquiescence to her Albanian's affections. Fiordiligi enters, angered by the uncontrollable desire blossoming in her heart. To create some distance, she instructs Despina to get their fiancés' uniforms from the closet. She will go to the battlefront to be with Guglielmo -- she encourages Dorabella to do the same. Ferrando enters and begins to woo Fiordiligi with renewed zeal. Her resolve finally falters, and she gives in to his entreaties. Guglielmo is furious when he discovers what has happened, and he and his friend plan their retaliation. Don Alfonso suggests a fake wedding ceremony for the grand denouement and sagely reminds them of his earlier premise -- they are women, after all, and they're all like that. Despina confirms the ladies are amenable to marriage.

Scene four -- An elegantly prepared salon.Despina instructs the servants to ready the house for a festive celebration. The two couples enter jubilantly, as the men conceal their rage. Again disguised, Despina officiates as the notary, and the ladies (only) sign on the dotted line. Suddenly, drums are heard in the distance -- the former boyfriends have returned from battle. Flustered, Fiordiligi and Dorabella hide their new spouses in another room and scramble for an explanation.

Guglielmo and Ferrando re-enter, now dressed as themselves, and question their lovers' uneasy demeanor. They discover the marriage contract and angrily demand to see their rivals. Don Alfonso points them to the hiding place, and the men go inside, only to emerge later in partial disguise, thus revealing the ruse. The duped women sheepishly return to their original partners, Despina is shocked to find that she too was deceived, Don Alfonso advises everyone to laugh it off and observe the moral of their misadventure.

Courtesy of Minnesota Opera
MOST PRODUCED SINCE 2000
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Alternate Titles/Spellings
Così
Cosi fan tutte
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