Così fan tutte, the third and final opera created by Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, is a manifesto of the Enlightenment – one of the prominent statements of its principles and its view of human relationships. Two officers and friends, Guglielmo and Ferrando, bet on the faithfulness of their two fiancées, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, with an old friend, Don Alfonso. Each tries to seduce the other’s girlfriend. The women resist at first, but end up falling for their new suitors. The deceit is revealed, and the original couples are reinstated, all the wiser about themselves and their beloved. This somewhat artificial and silly plot gives da Ponte and Mozart the occasion for a deep reflection on love.

Lucia Cirillo (Despina), Federica Lombardi (Fiordiligi) and Annalisa Stroppa (Dorabella)
© Rammella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

The notion of romantic love didn’t exist in 1790 and is portrayed as a fallacy, a figment of one’s imagination. In this view, love is based on “necessity” (necessità del core) and responds to universal, natural principles that are stronger than any will to be true, constant and faithful. This view of love is not, however, nihilistic or cynical: a wise man should accept human nature, accept love for what it is, and find his happiness within this framework. No wonder this opera was shunned and almost forgotten for the entire Romantic 19th century.

The libretto is arguably the best da Ponte has written, and the entirely Italian cast at the Teatro Regio di Torino did a wonderful job of expressing every nuance, every witty turn of phrase. The production by Ettore Scola (one of the masters of Italian cinematography of the 20th century) premiered in 2002, revived here by Vittorio Borrelli. The traditional production did not challenge any views, and it did not try to make the story relevant for our times (Mozart and da Ponte did that). We were even spared the (at this point trite and boring) reversal of the “happy end”. The result was relaxing and pleasant: the beautiful costumes by Odette Nicoletti and scenes by Luciano Ricceri gave a literal account of the plot, with some clever details (for example, Despina entertaining a lover coming in from the window) now and then.

Così fan tutte in Turin
© Rammella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

Diego Fasolis’ reading of the score was detailed and nuanced, with a definite 18th-century feel. The tempi were perfect – brisk but not rushed – and his command of the ensembles was masterful. The orchestra gave a great performance, with special mention to Carlo Caputo at the fortepiano. A demanding audience member might have missed some “forward vision” that is often highlighted in Mozart’s music, hints of the Romantic era to come, in the sweeping phrases of the strings, for example; and some may have found Fasolis’ interpretation a bit dry. Nevertheless, the Classical spirit was shining in all its brilliant and overwhelming beauty.

Federica Lombardi showed an amazing, luxurious top register as Fiordiligi, with powerful, velvety high notes. Unfortunately, her middle and lower registers were not as exciting or powerful. This reduced the success of her overall performance somewhat, as the music written for Fiordiligi frequently ventures into the bottom of the soprano range. Her great arias (and accompanied recitatives), however, were a delight. She tended to be quite static on stage (maybe the director’s choice) and this gave her character a suitably stern personality.

Dorabella was Annalisa Stroppa, arguably the most successful singer of the evening. Her voice was perfectly suited to the role, burnished and deep in its lower register, with confident high notes. She showed compelling stage presence, and her acting was truly funny. One of her best reactions was in the  finale, when the military chorus ushering in their old lovers is heard at the moment they finish signing the marriage contract with the new lovers. Her expression was priceless.

Andrè Schuen (Guglielmo), Roberto de Candia (Don Alfonso) and Francesco Marsiglia
© Rammella & Giannese/Piva | Teatro Regio Torino

The third woman on stage was Lucia Cirillo, as Despina, the cunning servant who helps to deceive the two sisters. Her performance was a success: her soprano had a round, amber colour which became slightly acidic in the high register, while maintaining depth. Her interpretation was funny and lively.

Among the men, the best performance was by Andrè Schuen as Guglielmo: his baritone was strong and pleasant, with good breath and control. He had a completely natural stage presence. Ferrando was Francesco Marsiglia, his light tenor showing bright, easy high notes. Despite his remarkable breath capacity, his less successful feature was projection. His voice tended to lack presence. Nevertheless, he gave a very good rendition of “Un’aura amorosa”, while his aria “Ah lo vedo quest’anima bella” was, as usual, cut. Roberto de Candia gave a convincing interpretation of Don Alfonso, enlivening the older, typical Enlightenment philosopher; his sympathetic voice and demeanour made him less cynical and scheming than expected. The chorus of the Teatro Regio handled their few interventions with precision and commitment, contributing to a warmly saluted performance.