Women are like that, women act that way - no matter how you translate the
words "Così fan tutte," it boils down to this: women are impossible to
understand! The philosopher Don Alfonso, however, believes he knows how to
read women's hearts and is ready to test his theory in a little experiment
of love. When Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann's production of "Così" begins,
we find Don Alfonso playing with fire. First it's only a cigarette, but
then it's the flames of love that he's stoking. And the instrument he's
using is ancient, well-worn and very effective: jealousy.
Don Alfonso is convinced that the sweethearts of the two soldiers Ferrando
and Guglielmo, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, would be unfaithful to them, given
the opportunity. The two soldiers are convinced otherwise and bet with him.
With the help of the young ladies' maid Despina, Alfonso devises an
elaborate scheme to make the two young women believe their lovers have gone
off to the army. Then he brings back the two young men, now disguised as
"Albanians." Dorabella and Fiordiligi are smitten, and soon fall in love
with the handsome strangers, but not with the "right" ones...
In their light-footed, witty and poetic staging, the Herrmanns took
advantage of the wide stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus to create a
luminous and elegantly minimalist landscape dotted with a few sparing but
stylish props. The lovers are portrayed with verve and compelling emotional
confusion by Ana María Martinez (Fiordiligi) and Sophie Koch (Dorabella) as
the two sisters, and Stéphane Degout (Guglielmo) and Shawn Mathey
(Ferrando) as the cocky soldiers who learn that lying isn't the best way to
find out the truth. Thomas Allen (Don Alfonso) and the great Helen Donath
(Despina) add their incomparable stage presence to the action. Conductor
Manfred Honeck entices a wondrous delicacy and tenderness from the Vienna
Coming after "Figaro" (1786) and "Don Giovanni" (1787), "Così fan tutte"
(1790) is the third of the magnificent trio of operas on libretti by
Lorenzo da Ponte. "Così" has long been problematic on account of its
libretto, which in earlier days was decried as immoral and in more recent
times as politically incorrect. But the beauty of the music and the
psychological truth at the heart of the text have ultimately redeemed this
opera buffa, which Nikolaus Harnoncourt calls "the saddest opera in the