English Key Stage 4
What’s in a name?
Read the synopsis of the opera. At first sight, it might seem frantically complicated, but it can be easily distilled. You have been given a brief to write the synopsis for a programme using exactly 100 words. See if you can manage it, without leaving out the most critical plot points.
Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte gave the opera an alternative title – ‘A School for Lovers’.If it is a school, then the teachers are the characters Don Alfonso and Despina. Watch the video ‘Soave sia il vento’, the famous trio sung by Don Alfonso, Fiordiligi and Dorabella.
- What are the three characters actually thinking? If you drew them onstage, what would their thought bubbles be?
- What do you think of the character Don Alfonso? When actors and opera singers prepare a role, they sometimes imagine that character’s ‘backstory’. What might Don Alfonso’s backstory be? Why?
Despina is perhaps the female equivalent of Don Alfonso – she is the cynical provider of blunt advice. In the famous aria ‘Una donna a quindici anni’, she suggests the sort of things that a young woman should be able to do. Find and listen to a recording of this aria, then read this translation of the words.
- What does this tell you about the nature of being a young woman in the 1790’s?
- If Don Alfonso was delivering a similar piece of advice to the boys, what do you think it would be?
- Perhaps you could write a short set of lyrics for that imagined aria?
The title of this opera is difficult to translate into English, because the word ‘Tutte’ is changed in Italian according to gender. In a recent production, a sign was made with a projection of the opera’s title above the stage. It was made to purposefully flicker between the spellings ‘Così fan tutte’ (‘Females are all the same’) and ‘Così fan tutti’ (’Everybody’s the same’). Based on your knowledge of the opera, which do you think might be a more appropriate title?
- Do the boys behave any better than the girls?
- Would things have turned out differently if it wasn’t for the characters of Don Alfonso and Despina?
- Do you think Mozart and Da Ponte would have got away with such a title in the 21st Century?
- In groups, discuss alternative English titles for the opera, and be prepared to justify your decision.
- Can you find other examples of historic literature where advice is given to young people? Try finding Louisa May Alcott’s advice to her daughters, for example, or Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in Hamlet. What does it tell you about the preconceptions of the time? If you had to write a piece of ‘worldly-wise’ advice to a teenager, what would it be?
- Can you think of an alternative ending to this opera? Pick a point in the plot at which you wish to take over – perhaps when Dorabella takes the locket with Guglielmo’s picture, for example, and continue with your own plot from that point.