Opera for One: Così fan tutte


Opera for One: Così fan tutte

Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre

New production

Laugh at love, old man, for you and I both know that women are all the same. But don’t say your heart isn’t moved when I sing of love...

Mozart’s opera about testing fidelity is an intriguing story set to music of impossible beauty. Two men disguise themselves as Albanians and attempt to seduce each other’s lover in an elaborate ruse to win a bet, at the urging of the cynical old philosopher Don Alfonso.

Absurd? Yes, but Mozart’s luminous music takes the absurd and makes it sublime.

Come along for a merry ride and you’ll see that under that veil of farce is a poignant drama about love, faith, loss and sex.

Acclaimed director Sir David McVicar sets this bittersweet romantic comedy in the early 1900s, just before WWI changed the world forever. Moritz Junge’s ravishing costumes and sun-bathed set designs add to the beauty on stage. Leading maestra Keri-Lynn Wilson makes her Australian debut.

Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson
Director David McVicar
Revival Director Andy Morton
Set & Costume Designer Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer David Finn
Fiordiligi Jane Ede
Dorabella Anna Dowsley
Despina Taryn Fiebig
Ferrando Pavel Petrov
Guglielmo Samuel Dundas
Don Alfonso Richard Anderson

Opera Australia Chorus

Orchestra Victoria

Running time: approximately 3 hours & 25 minutes, including one interval.

Production Partner

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The StoryHide

Are all women fickle? Don Alfonso thinks so, but two officers are determined to prove him wrong.

To win their wager, the men pretend to depart for war, only to return in disguise and attempt to woo the other’s fiancée.

The girls aren’t easily tempted, so Don Alfonso gets their maidservant in on the plot.

There’s flirting and fun in store for all of the lovers – but when it comes down to it, who will end up with who?

Not afraid of spoilers? Read the full synopsis.

Synopsis by David McVicar

Act I

In a café, two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are arguing with their friend, an old philosopher named Don Alfonso. The subject in question is the fidelity of women and Don Alfonso has insulted them by suggesting that their two fiancées, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, could be unfaithful. Don Alfonso pursues his argument, challenging the two men to a wager on the point. Enraged, they recklessly agree to a test of the girls’ fidelity.

In their garden overlooking the Bay of Naples, the sisters are impatiently waiting for their lovers. Each wears a miniature portrait of her betrothed: Fiordiligi, a picture of Guglielmo, Dorabella, one of Ferrando. But it is Don Alfonso who unexpectedly arrives with bad news. Their lovers have been ordered to leave Naples immediately to go to war. Ferrando and Guglielmo appear and sadly bid the sisters farewell, while Don Alfonso laughs to himself; it is all a trick, the beginning of the sisters’ test. The officers leave and the girls pray for their safety.

The sisters’ maid Despina is in the house preparing breakfast when the broken-hearted girls burst in, Dorabella hysterical with grief. Despina argues that their lovers’ absence should be seen as an opportunity to have some fun. In her opinion, the faithlessness of men should be rewarded in kind. Don Alfonso steals into the house to bribe Despina. He enlists her help in a scheme to introduce two lovesick strangers from Albania to the sisters. The ‘Albanians’ turn out to be Ferrando and Guglielmo in extravagant disguises, but neither Despina nor the girls recognise them when they appear. 

The sisters repulse the strangers’ declarations of love and it seems the wager is as good as won when Fiordiligi declares their fidelity to be as immovable as stone. But Ferrando and Guglielmo are already too deeply embroiled in Don Alfonso’s stratagems to turn back now.

In the next stage of Don Alfonso’s plan, the Albanian suitors rush into the girls’ garden and pretend to take poison before their eyes, driven insane with love. Terrified, the girls cry out for Despina, who runs off with Don Alfonso to fetch a doctor. Left alone with the dying men, the sisters find it impossible not to be moved. The doctor arrives (Despina, in another disguise devised by Don Alfonso) and apparently cures the patients with the latest electro-magnetic therapy. The revived Albanians beg the girls to kiss them to complete the cure. Desperately, they refuse.

Act II

Evening is falling and Despina persuades the sisters to give the suitors another chance. Dorabella confesses her curiosity, Fiordiligi is carried along and a liaison is arranged, each girl choosing the stranger they find the more attractive – in fact, the other’s partner: Dorabella has set her sights on Guglielmo, Fiordiligi on Ferrando. In the moonlit garden the Albanians sing a serenade, but when the sisters enter, the four lovers find themselves tongue-tied and need some prompting from Don Alfonso and Despina. Ferrando and Fiordiligi go for a stroll, leaving Guglielmo alone with Dorabella. She quickly succumbs to his seduction, exchanging her miniature of Ferrando for a little silver heart Guglielmo hangs around her neck. They go into the house together. Fiordiligi rushes in pursued by Ferrando. Tortured by her conscience, she begs him to leave her alone.

The men meet in secret to compare notes. Guglielmo is delighted, Ferrando heartbroken and furious at his friend’s success with Dorabella. Guglielmo blames the whole affair on the fickleness of womankind. Don Alfonso appears and reminds him that the wager is not yet won.

Despina congratulates Dorabella on her exciting new romance but Fiordiligi is appalled. Dorabella tells her sister plainly that she is ready to leave Naples with her new lover that very night. Fiordiligi is determined to stay true to Guglielmo and conceives a desperate plan to follow him, disguised, into war. She is spied on by the three men and Ferrando falls passionately at her feet. Fiordiligi loses the battle and admits that she has fallen in love with her new admirer. Once she has gone, Guglielmo gives vent to his fury and nearly comes to blows with Ferrando. Don Alfonso intervenes; the best revenge, he proposes, would be to take the test to the limit and stage a false wedding with the two girls. Despina confirms that the sisters are willing and the men agree.

Despina organises a hasty wedding feast and the lovers enter and make a toast; let the past be drowned in the wine. Don Alfonso announces the arrival of a Notary with the marriage contracts ready to sign (Despina again). The ink is hardly dry on the paper when a march is heard outside and Don Alfonso tells the terrified girls that their lovers have returned. They bundle the Albanians and the Notary into another room. Guglielmo and Ferrando quickly change back into their uniforms and re-enter to greet their fiancées. The ‘Notary’ is discovered and unmasked, to the sisters’ astonishment, then Don Alfonso drops the signed contracts at the men’s feet. They pretend to search furiously for the girls’ new lovers and the sisters beg for mercy. The whole deception is now revealed. Don Alfonso wins his wager.

Sir David McVicar: "The older I get, the sadder I find Così" - Limelight

The British director reflects on the profound melancholy of Mozart's most lyrical work. I'm beginning to associate Sir David McVicar with winter. The British director is back in Sydney for his third frosty July in a row to complete Opera Australia's Da Ponte trilogy and direct Così fan tutte.

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