Così fan tutte


Così fan tutte

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

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. 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.

Director David McVicar delivered profound and acclaimed productions of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, so we're excited to see what he has in store for this final instalment of the Da Ponte trilogy.

Jonathan Darlington returns to conduct a cast of Opera Australia's finest talents.

Introduction by David McVicar 

"Così fan tutte!" (All women are the same!); so believes the cynical old philosopher Don Alfonso and his reckless young friends, the officers Guglielmo and Ferrando agree to put his theory to the test, participating in an elaborate charade, attempting the seduction of each other's fiancees, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The four young people soon discover more about each other, themselves and life itself than any of them have bargained for.

Mozart's bitter-sweet romantic comedy was his final collaboration with the greatest of his librettists, Lorenzo Da Ponte, following the triumphant successes of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Premiered in 1790, just one year before Mozart's death, it was also a huge hit; but the sudden death of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II curtailed performances and Mozart's own death the following winter put paid to any immediate revivals. It was not until the early 20th century, with notable productions in Vienna under the direction of Gustav Mahler and at Glyndebourne in 1934, that the public began once again to appreciate a work, dismissed in the 19th century as immoral, disgraceful or even worthless.

The questions the opera poses to an audience are today even greater and possibly more disturbing. Often played in the past as an all-out farce, the subtle mix of sexual politics, heart-break, loss and pain that are inherent in the final masterpiece of Mozart and Da Ponte are more relevant today than ever before.

The new production sets this most troubling and ambiguous of operatic comedies in the dying days of a Europe about to lose itself in the carnage of the First World War. The ravishing costumes of the early 1900's are bathed in the late summer light of an age of innocence and elegance on the brink of being shattered, as the lives of the four lovers in the comedy ultimately are.

Cheese board

Head up the stairs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre to enjoy the pop-up bar with an unbeatable view of the harbour, exclusive to ticket holders. The bar opens 90 minutes before evening performances and an hour before matinees. See the menu.


Conductor Jonathan Darlington
Director David McVicar
Set & Costume Designer Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer David Finn
Assistant Director Andy Morton
Fiordiligi Nicole Car
Dorabella Anna Dowsley
Despina Taryn Fiebig
Ferrando David Portillo
Guglielmo Andrew Jones
Don Alfonso Richard Anderson

Opera Australia Chorus

Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra

Running time: approximately 3 hours and 25 minutes, including one 25-minute interval.

Production Partner

Philip Bacon Galleries

Supported by

Syndicate 30

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.

"Mozart’s Così fan tutte is not only about seduction — it is seduction."

The Sydney Morning Herald

"McVicar’s inspired and insightful exploration [is] one of Opera Australia’s finest recent achievements."

The Australian (subscription required)

"The central cast of six all give terrific acting performances, while their voices blend beautifully."

—Limelight magazine

"McVicar and his team have forged a deliciously textured and moving synthesis of music and modern drama."

Daily Review

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