Mozart's Così Fan Tutte seems like a standard operatic comedy but with a twist.
At the opening, two young men are boasting about the virtues of their sweethearts, especially their constancy and fidelity. Perhaps they are boasting a little too much. Very well, says their older friend, let's put them to the test.
Within a few hours, the boys pretend to leave town,but they return in disguise. (As "Albanians," no less.) Each of them begins wooing the other's girlfriend. Initially, they get the cold shoulder, but then you saw this coming the girls' defenses begin to weaken.
This all seems like familiar comic territory. But Mozart's music gives it a special dimension.
The score supports the farcical stage doings but also hints at more elusive emotions. One example: the most famous number in the opera is a trio invoking nature. The flowing rhythms suggest gentle breezes and untroubled waters. But then a fleeting harmonic shift comes along. Suddenly there's an element of mystery in the sunny landscape. (Interestingly, the shift happens on the word "desire".)
For a long time, Così was overshadowed by other Mozart operas, such as The Marriage of Figaro or The Magic Flute. In the 19th century, it was viewed as somewhat indecent, since its women do not always occupy the pedestal on which that era loved to put them. (The title, which means "All Women Act Like That," is hardly a proper Victorian sentiment.)
But modern audiences have found that its special blend of absurdity and emotion is very much to their taste. Two centuries after its creation, Mozart's sophisticated comedy has come into its own.