In 1989, Madonna released the hit tune "Express Yourself," a song that urges "girls" to "put your love to the test," by forcing guys to vent their true feelings, saying, "Then you'll know your love is real." Exactly 200 years earlier, Mozart wrote an opera with an almost identical message.
The theme of Mozart's Così fan tutte is "almost" identical to that of the song because Madonna seems to be turning the tables on the opera -- by urging women to test the true depths of their relationships.
The opera, at least at first, seems to have things the other way around. Its story evolves when a couple of swaggering, macho types hatch a silly test to prove the unswerving loyalty of their girlfriends. But by the time it all plays out, the men are left wondering if the only thing their little test actually accomplished was to highlight their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Così fan tutte was the last of the three great collaborations between Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The other two were The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Among the three, Così is the one that has probably attracted the most criticism. Some have said that the music and libretto simply don't match, arguing that simple sentiments in the text are often set to deeply stirring music -- and sometimes vice versa -- making the whole thing seem weirdly incongruous.
But perhaps that emotional disparity is actually Mozart's way of making sure the opera's unlikely story hits its mark -- which may be why this outwardly comical masterpiece often leaves audiences feeling more than a little uneasy. And if you doubt that an opera with such a farcical story can truly be unsettling, try a little test of your own: Listen to Così while imagining that your own significant other may be having second thoughts -- that is, if you even need to imagine it. Then see how funny the opera seems.
On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Mozart's Così fan tutte from the Royal Theatre in Madrid. The production stars soprano Annett Fritsch, baritone Andreas Wolf, mezzo-soprano Paola Gardina and tenor Juan Francisco Gatell, as the two couples whose tenuous relationships can lead the opera's audience to combine their many laughs with a few sideways glances.