Despite being almost 230 years old, this complex and nuanced lesson in love, life, and emotions still resonates.

If one accepts that art is the ultimate mirror of society, surely there’s a direct relationship between the Mozartian revolution in music and its contemporary revolutions: scientific, philosophical, industrial, political, and sexual. Mozart considered idealism the most dangerous element of romantic excess. In realizing that belief, he set himself against the current of nascent romanticism.

[The Danish existentialist philosopher] Kierkegaard* proposed that music conveys the sensitive and aesthetic content, while words convey the conceptual or ethical content that accompanies the former. In this regard, Così fan tutte offers us the perfect storm.

Succeeding a period of poorly-constructed and often bawdy wife-swapping stage works, Mozart and his brilliant librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, elevated the quality of plot, words, and music. Here was another of their collaborations where characters were not heroes or gods, but in fact were real flesh and blood people who shared real emotions.  Not as Mozart says in [the 1984 film] Amadeus, “…people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!”

Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Mozart in the 1984 film <em>Amadeus.</em>

In the course of a single day, the worldly-wise Don Alfonso manages to construct a powerful learning experience for two young, naïve romantic officers and their equally starry-eyed fiancées. The School for Lovers, to give it its secondary title, leaves no one unchanged. By betting that he can prove their fiancées are as fickle as all other women, Alfonso shreds the illusory image the men had of their lovers. The men are forced to face a bitter reality, and like the women, confront their own carnal and emotional natures.

Through this painful lived experience, the lovers in Così descend from their lofty ideals of love and fidelity to experiences that are real flesh and blood, full of untapped raw emotion. While we may laugh at their antics, don’t forget that most of us humans have at some point fallen in love impulsively or without understanding, or both!

Blatantly contradicting societal ideals of the time, Così reveals Mozart purging his very own romantic idealism. Expressing himself through Don Alfonso, Mozart asks that we stop idealizing love, and deal with our desires and emotions.

These director’s notes are also published in the Così fan tutte program book.

Così fan tutte is March 16, 20, 22 and 24 at the Kauffman Center. Tickets start at $29. Click here for tickets or call (816) 471-7344. 

*More on Kierkegaard: Watch this 6-minute video