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Così fan tutte Die Zauberflöte
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Fiordiligi and Dorabella
By kind permission of the
English Touring Opera
An Opera in two acts, composed in 1790 The Garden Scene
By kind permission of the
English Touring Opera
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

Synopsis

Act I

Don Alfonso is trying to enlighten Ferrando and Guglielmo as to the true nature of women. He places a bet that he can prove their fiancées, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are not the icons of purity the men believe them to be. Both sides are confident of victory within twenty-four hours.

The sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are celebrating the perfection of their lovers. Don Alfonso arrives and tells them that the men have been called to war and must leave immediately. The women are devastated but their maid Despina tells them to look on the bright side and have a good time in their absence. Don Alfonso and Despina work together to this end. Don Alfonso introduces two 'Albanian' friends whom Despina in turn introduces to the sisters. None of the three women penetrate the disguises of Ferrando and Guglielmo. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are offended to see the strange men and repelled by their advances. They declare fidelity to their lovers. The young men are delighted but Don Alfonso is quite relaxed.

The sisters continue to grieve. The two rejected strangers return to them, swallow 'poison' and collapse. The terrified girls call for Despina, who goes with Don Alfonso to find a doctor. Fiordiligi and Dorabella try to help the 'dying' strangers. Don Alfonso returns with Despina disguised as a doctor who claims to cure everything by magnetism. The men revive, and pretending to believe they are in heaven demand a kiss from their 'angels' Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The sisters manage to resist again.

Act II

Despina persuades the sisters to befriend their new admirers. They decide on preferences - Dorabella chooses Guglielmo; Fiordiligi Ferrando - each picks the other's fiancé. The couples pair up and Dorabella yields to Guglielmo. Fiordiligi rejects Ferrando, for the time being.

Ferrando and Guglielmo exchange notes on their progress. Ferrando is furious, and Guglielmo triumphant but brutally dismissive of the fallen Dorabella.

Despina and Dorabella put pressure on Fiordiligi. Fiordiligi decides she must run away to join Guglielmo at war, but Ferrando confronts her again and she too yields. Agonised, Guglielmo witnesses it all. Don Alfonso has proven his point and won the bet. Don Alfonso and Despina arrange for the new couples to be 'married' by Despina disguised as a Notary. As the girls sign their names, a military band is heard. Apparently the soldiers have returned unexpectedly. In the confusion the two men disappear, re-emerging without their disguise. The plot is revealed. All four lovers' certainties have been destroyed.

Historical Note

The full title of this opera is Così fan tutte, ossia la scuola degli amanti which translates literally as "Thus do all women, or the School for Lovers" - which indicates what it is all about. A cynical comedy on love and relationships. It was Mozart's third opera masterpiece and his third collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Così did not achieve the poularity of his three other great operas until the twentieth century. Vocal highlights of this piece include the famous trio from Act I, Soave sia il vento (May the gentle breeze) and Come scoglio (like a rock), a prodigiously difficult coloratura test piece.

Personal Note

I first saw this opera on the Spring 2005 Tour of English Touring Opera. This was another wonderful opera, which had me laughing out loud at the antics of Don Alfonso and Despina. It was also painfully poignant at the end, when all the lover's certainties have been shattered. It was also a wonderfully strong cast, with Despina, in my humble opinion, stealing the show.

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left hand side border Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) right
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An Opera in two acts, composed in 1791

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder

Synopsis

Act I

A serpent is attacking Tamino, who has run out of arrows. Tamino faints and three Ladies, servants of the Queen of the Night, kill the serpent. They cannot agree who should stay to watch over the attractive young man, so they go off together to tell their Queen about him. Tamino comes round and catches sight of Papageno, the Queen's bird catcher, who claims to have killed the serpent himself. The Ladies punish Papageno for this lie by padlocking his mouth; they then give Tamino a portrais of Pamina, the Queen's daughter, and looking at her picture he immediately falls in love with her

The Queen appears and promises Tamino that Pamina will be his if he will rescue her from Sarastro, the Queen's enemy, who has kidnapped her. Papageno will accompany him, and they will have a magic flute and magic bells to help them, and three Boys to guide them.

In Sarastro's palace, Monostatos tried to rape Pamina. Papageno, who has become separated from Tamino, unexpectedly appears and frightens him off. He comforts Pamina and together they make their escape.

The three Boys lead Tamino to Sarastro's temple of Nature, Reason and Wisdom, Tamino approaches each of the three doors in turn. Voices order him back from the first two; from the third the Speaker enters and convinces him he has been deceived in thinking that Sarastro is evil. He leaves Tamino to consider this reversal of his fate.

Tamino discovers that the magic flute can tame the wild animals of the forest. Papageno follows his music but they just miss each other: Papageno and Pamina enter, pursued by Monostatos. Papageno plays his magic bells, enchanting Monostatos and avoiding capture. Sarastro returns with his followers from hunting and Pamina tells him the whole truth of what has happened to her. Tamino is brought in by Sarastro's men, and sees Pamina for the first time. Sarastro orders Monostatos to be punished for his actions, and invites Tamino and Papageno to prove themselves worthy by undergoing trials of initiation into the community of Isis.

Act II

Sarastro explains to his fellow priests his purpose in introducing Tamino and Papageno into the mysteries of Isis. His fellow initiates overcome their misgivings and take the blind-folded men into the vaults of the temple. The first trial is to take place; they must remain silent in the darkness. When the three Ladies attempt to distract them and win them back to the Queen's cause, the men ignore them.

Monostatos attempts again to seduce Pamina and this time it is the Queen who intervenes to defend her. She gives her daughter a dagger, ordering her to kill Sarastro and recover the sign of the sun for her. Monostatos has overheard and now threatens to inform on her if she does not yield to him. When Sarastro appears, Pamina, distraught, tells him everything that has happened, but he assures her that he has no thought of revenge on her mother

Tamino and Papageno begin a second trial of silence: the contemplation of mortality. Papageno cheats by chatting up an old lady who says she is his girl-friend. The three Boys bring food and drink and return the magic instruments to assist them. At the sound of Tamino's flute, Pamina appears and cannot understand why he rejects her in silence. She concludes that he no longer loves her.

Sarastro congratulates Tamino on his strength of will, but tells him that, after one last meeting, he may never see Pamina again. The lovers greet each other joyfully but sadly part. Papageno also meets the old woman again, and discovers that she really is Papagena, a perfect young wife for him; to his annoyance an initiate insists that he, like Tamino, should continue the trials alone.

Pamina, now unconsolable, contemplates suicide. The Boys prevent her, however, and reunite her with Tamino, who has reached the final trial: the ordeals of fire and water. Pamina is allowed to join him and together they brave the dangers, guarded by the music of the flute and strengthened by their love for one another. They are both welcomed into the temple.

It is Papageno's turn to contemplate suicide. The Boys remind him of his magic bells, and as he plays, Papagena appears again and they are happily united.

The Queen, Monostatos and the three Ladies plan a final assult on Sarastro's temple. However, they are destroyed by a vision of a family united in wisdom and selfless love.

Historical Note

Beethoven considered this to be Mozart's best work. Whether seen as a fairy tale, an allegorical pantomime or an evening glorifying Freemasonry, it is a work of universal appeal. Among the many vocal highlights of this piece are Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (O loveliness beyond compare), sung by Tamino, and one of Mozart's finest arias for the tenor voice; O zittre nicht (O tremble not) and Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinen Herzen (The wrath of hell is burning in my bosom) - the two thrilling arias for the Queen of the Night that send the soprano up to an inhuman top F (written for Mozart's sister-in-law).

Personal Note

Although I have never seen this opera, I have heard snippets of it and have very much enjoyed it. The only version of it I have heard is the Chandros Opera in English series version

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