One of the things that struck me about Così fan tutte last night (see the review) is how timeless the libretto is. We had Dorabella and Fiordiligi texting each other pictures of their beloveds, and Despina drawing up the marriage contract on her laptop, but none of the dialogue seemed remotely anachronistic.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I was taken by one particular phrase, which didn't quite come out right on the surtitles: when Don Alfonso is encouraging the disguised Ferrando and Guglielmo to make advances to the girls and they are wittering ineptly, he urges them on with: Lasciate tali smorfie Del secolo passato Leave behind such simpering Of the century gone past The implication is that in contrast to the formal manners of the past, young people of today should know how to be straightforward in displaying their affections. What entertained me was this: clearly, the expectation of "the youth of today" being different and less formal than "the fuddy-duddies of yesteryear" is a constant: it was as much of a cliché in 18th century Vienna as it is in 21st century England.

I also love the beginning of Act I scene 8, when Despina the maid has made chocolate for the two girls. Dorabella pushes her away and throws the chocolate onto the floor: some things are so dreadful that even chocolate cannot cure them. And yes, it's all in the original - take a look at


(presenta il cioccolatte sopra una guantiera)

Madame, ecco la vostra colazione. DORABELLA

(gitta tuto a terra)

Diamine! Cosa fate?

I guess this timelessness is one of the reasons why Mozart's three collaborations with da Ponte (the others are Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro) remain so high in the list of opera's greatest hits.

25th November 2010