Tutte or tutti?:
Men, Women and Music in Mozart's Così fan tutte

by Elizabeth Sayrs

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Music Theory Midwest Annual Meeting,
Kalamazoo, MI, May 1996

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Intro Spectator vs. Textual Spectator=Textual Men are faithless, too Scandals Conclusion Bibliography

*This paper under construction*


Apparently, Mozart's Così fan tutte is a pretty confusing opera, especially when it comes to feminism, men, women, and music. Listen to these two different descriptions of the opera:

[2]        In our first account, the analyst writes that Così is "tragic drama", in which [love] is "beautifully placed in the middle of an informal social setting, a nexus of family and friends such as Jane Austen might have assembled." It is in this setting that Mozart endowed women with a moral intelligence, giving the female leads, especially Foirdiligi, "heroic" arias that portray the depth of their character. This is only natural in the context of the Enlightenment: "Once reason was set free to plead for justice in place of the inherited social order, liberal sympathy was drawn to women as a long oppressed class; and the cause of their emancipation was bound to be implicitly helped by the arrival of opera, which not merely drew attention to women but pointed up the injustice of assuming that nature had made them in every respect inferior to men." (119)

[2]       In fact, Mozart's apparent "anxiety about women's constancy is cognate with Mozart's anxiety about his own constancy"(118-122). Thus Così, this "school for lovers...enlightens its pupils by the rational exploration of nature, including the nature of their own emotions; the lesson is the almost biological one that, although sexual love seems to be aroused by so very particular an object, the species is not at all particular about which object provides it with satisfaction....True choice, the Enlightenment insists, must be reasoned and informed as well as feeling." Mozart has brought women's liberation forward by endowing them with the moral intelligence to make those "enlightened" universal choices.

Our second account of the opera is as follows:

[2]       "Mozart's operas seem to instill new life into stale and oppressive contradictions ("our common sense oppositions between reason and feeling, subject and object, self and other, master and servant"), flattering us into thinking our common-sense assumptions universally valid." (9) The male and female characters of Così are mapped onto reason and feeling respectively. The two male lovers and Don Alfonso set up a "scientific" experiment to test their female lovers' resolve. The men take the role of objective scientists, letting nothing interfere with finding the Truth. This is symptomatic of Enlightenment thought in general; the tension between "desire, as a form of reason's will to dominate all otherness, and feeling, as an empathetic, fundamentally unreasonable, and therefore feminine, responsiveness"(123). This is the same as the opposition between the erotic and love. The specific position of Enlightenment women within this binary is not encouraging:

Enlightened woman was thought of as fundamentally opposed to everything that masculinity held dear. Individual freedom to reason, to transcend and dominate nature, were precisely those qualities that woman could not aspire to by her nature; there was no positive place for her in Enlightenment discourse....This is not to say that women were never discussed by Enlightenement theory, but rather that they were always identified with the absolute otherness of nature to the supposedly human, but in fact masculine, freedom and autonomy of consciousness...This unpredicatability is the basis of Enlightened woman's unpredictability, which is to say the fickleness of femininity, that is celebrated by Così fan tutte. (136)

Thus the lesson of this Così is that women were incapable of morality or reason by their nature, and because "all women are like that" by their nature; punishing them does no good, because they did no wrong, because they had no choice in the matter. This is reflected in the opera in that (138) "Mozart's feminine music, with its fluid a-periodicity, and decorative prolongation of single pitches and arpeggios, reflects this lack of persona in that it is more akin to that which he wrote for enembles, rather than for individual males. Feminine music is a distinct sub-style, formed to express an historical, male representation of feminine sensbilities, as static, decorative and anonymous moments of the natural tonality, which are wholly exhausted, or insistent, in their function as the incarnation of male desire." Therefore everyone can be reconciled unproblematically at the end.


        The characters are in a warm, social, familiar, feminine, Jane Austen-ish setting, OR they exist in a social vaccuum as victims of a cold, objective, male, scientific experiment.

        Dorabella and Fiordiligi have "heroic" arias that portray the depth and moral intelligence of their characters OR their feminine music reflects their lack of persona, as static, decorative and anonymous moments, as the incarnation of male desire.

        Mozart endows his women with moral intelligence in order to make reasoned and informed Enlightenment decisions, OR Mozart relegates women to a musical "sub-style" in order to demonstrate that they are incapable, by their nature, of moral reasoning.

        Enlightenment opera aided in the liberation of women, OR it reinscribed woman's absolute Otherness and negative position in Enlightenment thought.


        You may have noticed that I left out a few important details. Our first account (warm setting, morally intelligent women, female heroic(an oddly masculine term?) arias) was written by Brigid Brophy in 1964 in Mozart the Dramatist. Our second account (evil men do scientific experiment to prove that women are faithless, unreasonable, etc) is written by Charles Ford, 1994, Così, Sexual Politics. A woman in the 60's identifies Mozart's and the Enlightenment's budding feminism; a man in the '90's looks at the same material and finds Mozart reinscribing the Enlightenment's misogyny.

Let's begin with the man in the '90s, and see how we got here.

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Intro Spectator vs. Textual Spectator=Textual Men are faithless, too Scandals Conclusion Bibliography

Page created by Elizabeth Sayrs
Copyright 1995