Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte Overture

Cosi fan tutte (1790) is the third in the great trilogy of operas composed by Mozart with Lorenzo da Ponte as his librettist. The other two are The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787). All three are comedies (opera buffa) with Cosi being the most light-hearted. The title, which is almost impossible to translate, is usually read as “Women are like that” or “so do they all”, and the Overture is a short introduction to the story of the opera which deals with the vagaries of the male/female relationship. The first performance was at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26th, 1790, the day before Mozart’s 34th birthday. It was well received, and ten performances were given that year.

The Overture is in C major and is in two parts. It consists of a brief Andante followed by a fast, high-spirited Presto in sonata form and is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, timpani and strings. The music hints at the plot of the opera to follow. Twice we hear the music that accompanies Don Alfonso’s proclamation “Cosi fan tutte!” firstly as the bridge leading from the Andante into the Presto, and again near the end of the Overture.

The Andante begins with a lyrical oboe solo punctuated by interjections (supposedly the women objecting to the advances of the disguised men). After the second oboe phrase we hear the Cosi fan tutte phrase from Don Alfonso’s Act 2 aria. The longer Presto section begins with the first of four distinct phrases which feature soft, scurrying quavers that build in intensity to a syncopated motif played by the full orchestra. This is followed by quiet phrases suggesting the whispers of the women. Then after a brief return of the first two phrases the fourth and final phrase is played by the strings. Mozart then treats his audience to a clever development of all these phrases before the “Cosi” phrase returns with the note values doubled. This indicates that the Presto should be linked directly in tempo to the beginning Andante and concludes the Overture.

Lynne Haslam, Violin 2