Following the triumphs of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte is the third and final collaboration of the gifted librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and the brilliant Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But among these three key monuments of Western musical culture, Così has been the least understood. It was once considered risqué, if not immoral, and during the 1800s Mozart’s music was frequently performed with an entirely different libretto bearing no resemblance to the original.

The theme of testing the constancy of women by improvising a trial can be traced into deep antiquity, but the treatment provided by Mozart and Da Ponte deliciously dissects the social mores of the late 1700s and demonstrates the young composer’s astonishing skill.

Two young men make a bet with an older friend that their fiancées will remain faithful under any circumstances. The friend, claiming to know better, arranges for the men to leave the girls, who are sisters, and then return in disguise. The girls waver, and soon fall headlong for each other’s fiancé. When the mean-spirited trick is revealed, all we can know for certain is that those relationships will never be the same.