Ferrando and Guglielmo proclaim the virtues of the sisters Dorabella
and Fiordiligi, to whom they are betrothed; Alfonso is sceptical (trio,
"La mia Dorabella"). The young men prepare to defend the ladies´ honour
with swords, but the diatonic brilliance of music shared by all three
argues no great discord. Alfonso declines to fight, but calls them
simpletons to trust female constancy: a faithful woman is like a
phoenix; all believe in it but none has seen it (his mocking pianissimo
unison cadence resembles the motto). The other insist that the phoenix
is Dorabella/Fiordiligi (trio, "E la fede delle femmine"). Alfonso
wagers 100 zecchini that fidelity will not endure a day of the lovers´
absence; he will prove it if they promise to obey him while wooing each
other´s betrothed in disguise. Ferrando plans to spend his winnings on
a serenade, Guglielmo (the first division between them) on a meal;
Alfonso listens politely (trio, "Una bella serenata"). An extended
orchestral coda closes a scene of purely buffo electricity.
A garden by the sea (morning).
The girls sing rapturously of their lovers (duet, "Ah guarda sorella");
Dorabella (surprisingly, in view of the sequel) touches a note of
melancholy before they launch into voluptuous coloratura in 3rds,
united in loving the idea of loving. Alfonso appears, the prolonged F
minor cadences of his tiny aria ("Vorrei dir") choking back the awful
news: their lovers are to leave for active service. The men take solemn
leave with only hints at lyricism (quintet, "Sento, o Dio"). The girls´
agitation is coloured by the dominant minor; Alfonso quells any
premature delight at this evidence of love. Ferrando´s lyricism (to a
motif from the trio, "Una bella serenata") now matches the girls´;
Guglielmo sings with Alfonso (this inevitable consequence of
differences in tessitura continually invites differentiation of
character). The girls declare they will die. A march is heard (chorus,
"Bella vita militar"). They embrace, promising a daily letter, their
rapturous indulgence in misery (particularly intense in the melodic
line, taken by Fiordiligi) counter-pointed by Alfonso´s efforts not to
laugh (quintet, "Di scrivermi ogni giorno"). The men embark (reprise of
the chorus); Alfonso joins a moving prayer for their safety (trio,
"Soave sia il vento"), the orchestra evocative yet sensuous. Alfonso
prepares for action (arioso); "He ploughs the waves, sows in sand,
traps the wind in a net, who trusts the heart of a woman".
A furnished room.
Despina has prepared the ladies´ chocolate and is sampling it when they
burst in. Dorabella explains their despair, but her extravagant grief
leaves her barely coherent (obbligato recitative and the first real
aria,"Smanie implacabili"). Despina cannot take them seriously; surely
they can find other lovers. In the teeth of their protests she inverts
Alfonso´s creed (aria, "In uomini"): men, especially soldiers, are not
expected to be faithful; women should also use love to enjoy
themselves. Alfonso bribes Despina to assist him, without revealing the
plot. The men enter as "Albanians", their bizarre disguise impenetrable
even to the sharp-witted Despina (sextet, "Alla bella Despinetta").
Recovering from laughter, she helps them to plead with the ladies
(Alfonso being concealed); they are rejected in a furious Allegro.
Alfonso claims them as his friends, but after the men´s voices unite,
turning recitative towards arioso, Fiordiligi articulates her constancy
in a powerful recitative and aria ("Come scoglio"); she stands firm as
a rock in tempestuous seas. Guglielmo´s patter-song in praise of his
own appearance (especially the moustaches) find no favour ("Non siate
ritrosi"). As the outraged girls depart, the men bubble with delight
(trio, "E voi ridete?"), a brilliant hocket covering Alfonso´s
insistence that the more the girls protest, the more sure is their
fall. Guglielmo wonders when they can get lunch; Ferrando enjoys the
atmosphere of love ("Un´ aura amorosa"), muted violins and clarinets
supporting his ardently extended line.
The garden (afternoon).
At the beginning of the finale, the girls unwittingly share Ferrando´s
mood of longing, spinning a tender D major melody to a gently ironic
rococo decoration of flutes and bassoons. How their fate has changed!
Their sighs are displaced by fear when the men rush in drinking poison,
to music (in G minor) suddenly suggestive of tragic violence. Alfonso
and Despina go for help, instructing the ladies to nurse the men, who
are thoroughly enjoying themselves; yet minor modes prevail as never
before in Mozart´s finales. Despina, to a pompous G major minuet,
appears disguised as the doctor, invoking Mesmer as she magnetizes out
the poison. The key abruptly changes to B: the men profess to believe
they are in paradise. In the final Allegro (in D) the men request a
kiss and are again rebuffed.
Despina tries to persuade her shocked employers that there is no harm
in a little flirtation. In Mozart´s slyest buffo soprano aria ("Una
donna a quindici anni"), she explains that a young girl who knows the
arts of attracting men can have them at her mercy. The girls agree that
there can be no harm in a little light flirtation, and they select
partners (duet, "Prendero quel brunettino"). Dorabella will take the
brownhaired one (Guglielmo), Fiordiligi the blond (Ferrando; thus they
fall in with the men´s plan); and they prepare to amuse themselves.
Furnished garden by the sea (early evening).
The serenade on wind instruments, repeated by the lovers and chorus
("Secondate, aurette amiche"), is a prayer for success in love. The
four meet but are tongue-tied; Alfonso and Despina give a lesson in
etiquette (quartet, the ladies silent, "La mano a me date"), and join
their hands. The couples prepare to walk round the garden. Guglielmo is
all too successful in winning Dorabella´s heart and a mark of her
favour, replacing Ferrando´s portrait by his own gift, a pendant heart
(duet, "Il core vi dono"). The gently bantering 3/8, in F major,
matches Dorabella´s innocent flirtatiousness; Guglielmo can hardly
believe his success, but falls comfortably in with her mood. Fiordiligi
rushes in, pursued by Ferrando: she has seen in him temptation, a
serpent, a basilisk; he is stealing her peace. He protests that he
wants only her happiness and asks for a kindly glance, noting that she
looks at him and sighs. Her lovely soul will not long resist his
pleading; otherwise her cruelty will not long resist his pleading;
otherwise her cruelty will kill him ("Ah lo veggio quell´anima bella").
Fiordiligi wrestles with her consience, her obbligato recitative ("Ei
parte"). In her deeply expressive rondo ("Per pieta, ben mio") she asks
her absent lover´s forgiveness. Dorabella´s fickleness rouses Ferrando
to fury (obbligato recitative, "Il mio ritratto! Ah perfida!").
Guglielmo tries to console him by adopting Alfonso´s philosophy (aria,
"Donne mie la fate a tanti"); he is fond of women and defends their
honour, but their little habit of deceiving men is reprehensible. The
restless perpetual motion conveys Guglielmo´s confidence that the
tragedy will not befall him. Ferrando´s feelings are in turmoil
(obbligato recitative, "In qual fiero contrasto"). An obsessive
orchestral figure projects shame ("Alfonso! How you will laugh!") and
anger ("I will cut the wretch out of my heart") beyond the decorum of
comedy. His pride piqued, he agree to a further attack on Fiordiligi.
A room, with several doors, a mirror, and a table.
Despina praises Dorabella´s good sense; Dorabella answers Fiordiligi´s
protests in a graceful 6/8 aria ("E amore un ladroncello") which,
despite its sophisticated instrumentation, shows her conversion to
Despina´s easy virtue; love is a thief, a serpent, but if you let him
have his way, he brings delight. Alone, Fiordiligi resolves to repel
her new suitor; sadistically observed by the men, she prepares to join
her lover at the front. She launches an aria ("Fra gli amplessi"), but
as she quickens the tempo from Adagio Ferrando joins in Ferrando´s
lyricism outdoes hers. The note of true ardour is intensified when the
acceleration of tempo is halted by a Larhetto, it is hard not to
believe that Ferrando is genue. Fiordiligi´s responses are tremulous;
she admits defeat ("hai vinto"). The latter is enraged; Ferrando is
ironic; Alfonso tells them their only revenge is to marry their
"plucked crows". Women are always accused of fickleness, but he
forgives them, they are not responsible for their own nature ("Tutti
accusan le donne"). All three sing the motto from the overture: "Cosi
A reception room prepared for a wedding. An
Allegro, resembling the opera´s opening number, begins the finale, as
Despina orders the servants to a prepare a feast (brief choral
response) and Alfonso applauds their work. The chorus greets the
couples. Fiordiligi, Ferrando with Dorabella sing the toast, a
ravishing canon, Guglielmo, whose range prevents him from following on,
mutters curses. Alfonso enters, with Despina disguised as a notary.
Coughing formally, she reads the marriage contract; the ladies sign it.
But then the Act 1 march in D, associated with the officers´ departure,
is heard. Consernation: their lovers are returning. The Albanians are
hidden, and the men reappear jauntily as their old selves, pretend
puzzlement at their reception, drag out the notary, revealed as
Despina, and find the marriage contract: indignation, confession, blame
(on Alfonso), threats of revenge. Returning half-changed into
Albanians, Ferrando greets Fiordiligi (apparently quoting earlier music
subsequently abandoned), Guglielmo greets Dorabella (quoting their love
duet), and both address the flabbergasted Despina as the doctor
(quoting the first finale). Alfonso calms them down; the ladies beg
pardon; the men condescend to forgive, and all agree to follow
Alfonso´s idea of reason: to laugh when there is cause to weep, and so