English Key Stage 3
Meet the characters! How can characterisation drive a plot?
Così fan tutte starts with a trio which introduces the three male characters – Guglielmo, Ferrando and Don Alfonso as they discuss the nature of love. Guglielmo and Ferrando are young lovers, utterly convinced of the fidelity of their girlfriends. Don Alfonso is more worldly-wise, arguing that they should realise that their lovers are only human and, just like everybody else, are likely to change their minds. Read this translation of the libretto, then suggest how you might stage this scene. Where would it be set? Why? What instructions would you give to the actors? Why?
Ferrando and Guglielmo’s girlfriends are called Fiordiligi and Dorabella. At the beginning of the opera, we have no reason to believe that they wouldn’t be absolutely faithful to their boyfriends. Their first appearance is singing this duet together.
After watching the video of the duet, read the translation. What do you make of this conversation between the two sisters? Why are they having this chat? For each line of the translation, provide a sentence or two explaining what might be in the character’s secret ‘thought bubble’ as they sing. For example, Fiordiligi’s first thought bubble might be – ‘My boyfriend is far more handsome than yours…’. Now listen to the duet again. Does the music match your thought bubbles at all? If so, why, and if not, why not?
You have now met all six of the characters in this opera. List them, and beside each name, write a sentence or two extending their character descriptions. Look at them again. How have Mozart and Da Ponte (his librettist) used the differences between the characters to set up the sort of tension that can drive a plot? Now, leaving plenty of space between each, write each character’s name in its own circle. Draw arrows between the characters, and next to the arrows (or perhaps numbering the arrows, and writing underneath), write what the relationships are between each at the beginning of the opera. For example, an arrow between Ferrando and Guglielmo might read: ‘They are best friends, and share the belief that their girlfriends will be true to them’.
- Select a character and write a diary entry for them from the beginning of the opera. What do they think of the other characters?
- Follow the opera’s story, and write a diagram of the characters’ relationships with each other at a different point in the plot which you can choose.