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Così fan tutte musical highlight: ‘Come scoglio’

Our one-stop guide to Mozart’s exquisitely written aria, both an insight into and a commentary on the character Fiordiligi.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

30 September 2016 at 3.28pm | 2 Comments

‘Come scoglio’ is an aria from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 1790 opera Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti.

It takes place in Act I and is sung by Fiordiligi, a young woman who is unwittingly participating in the ‘school for lovers’ of the opera’s subtitle. Like much of Mozart’s writing for this character, the aria covers an unusually wide range and mixes together forceful, held sections with heavily ornamented passages, requiring a voice that brings together agility and power. The aria is designed to impress (which it certainly does) but it also has an element of parody, as Mozart mimics and mocks the opera conventions of his time – a thread that runs throughout Così fan tutte.

Where does it take place in the opera?

‘Come scoglio’ occurs at the end of Act I scene 11. The opera opens in the midst of an argument between the young men Ferrando and Guglielmo and the older Don Alfonso. Alfonso claims that no woman can be faithful; the young men hotly contest that their girlfriends – Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respectively – are as faithful as they are beautiful. The men agree to put their loves to the test, and pretend to go to war, only to return, disguised, to woo the women as strangers. The women are devastated by their fiancés’ departure. Their maid Despina recommends they use this opportunity to take a lover – and lo and behold, the disguised Ferrando and Guglielmo appear. Fiordiligi, sternly resistant to their advances, sings ‘Come scoglio’ (like a rock). But as the opera goes on even she will yield.

What do the lyrics mean?

Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by musicologist Roger Parker:

Recitative: ‘Temerari, sortite’

Temerari, sortite
Fuori di questo loco, e non profani
L’alito infausto degli infami detti
Nostro cor, nostro orecchio e nostri affetti!
Invan per voi, per gli altri invan si cerca
Le nostr'alme sedur: I’intatta fede
Che per noi già si diede ai cari amanti,
Saprem loro serbar infino a morte,
A dispetto del mondo e della sorte.
Reckless youths, leave at once!
Don’t profane with such words
our hearts, our ears
and our affections!
In vain will you, or any other,
try to seduce our hearts.
We’ll keep sacred even unto death
the trust we pledged to our lovers
in the face of the world and destiny.

Aria: ‘Come scoglio’

Come scoglio immoto resta
Contro i venti e la tempesta,
Così ognor quest’alma è forte
Nella fede e nell’amor.
Con noi nacque quella face
Che ci piace, e ci consola,
E potrà la morte sola
Far che cangi affetto il cor.
Rispettate, anime ingrate,
Quest’esempio di costanza;
E una barbara speranza
Non vi renda audaci ancor!
Like a rock,
unmoving in wind and storm,
my soul remains strong
in its faith and love.
Within us burns a fire
that strengthens and consoles.
Death alone will change
the feelings in our hearts.
Respect my constancy,
you ignoble souls.
Never again let vile expectations
make you so bold.

What makes the music so memorable?

Fiordiligi is a force to be reckoned with, as ‘Come scoglio’ makes more than clear. Unlike Dorabella, who seems to take to infidelity quite happily, Fiordiligi will wrestle with strong emotions that tear her between her two loves. The determined leaps and resolute rhythms in ‘Come scoglio’ are crucial in establishing this character. Yet Mozart doesn’t seem to take Fiordiligi quite as seriously as she does. There is more than a hint of parody in ‘Come scoglio’ – the leaps are so huge, the range so large and the ornamentation on the repeated first stanza thickly florid. Fiordiligi dominates the music to an absurd extent, even at one point singing the bass line. So the aria serves a straightforward function, of delineating the character and moving the story forwards – but it also, like so much of the music in Così fan tutte, provides a further commentary on the characters and their emotions, an extra level that can provide a deeper insight.

Take a look at the full score of ‘Come scoglio’ (from p.112 for the aria and p.110 for the recitative) on IMSLP.

Così fan tutte’s other musical highlights

Mozart's third collaboration with Lorenzo Da Ponte sees the composer lavish miniature masterpieces on pretty much every scene. Despina and the four lovers all receive at least one stand-out aria: Ferrando’s ‘Un’aura amorosa’, Guglielmo’s ‘Donne mie la fate’, Dorabella’s ‘È amore un ladroncello’, Despina’s ‘In uomini’ – the list could go on. An unusual proportion of the music, though, is constructed in duets and ensembles, all ingeniously formed: there’s the terzetto ‘Soave sia il vento’, probably the opera’s most well-known number, but also many gems besides, including the opening trio between the three men, the brilliant Act I finale, Dorabella and Guglielmo’s seduction duet ‘Il core vi dono’ and the rapturous multi-movement duet between Fiordiligi and Ferrando, ‘Fra gli amplessi’. As ever with Mozart, taken as a whole the entire opera is constructed in a highly sophisticated manner, the pace of numbers and the use of recitative all coming together to impart nuanced and compelling characterization to all of the cast.

Classic recordings

Fortunately, the world is not short on excellent Così recordings, so you’re in with a good chance of finding the one that suits you perfectly. Broadly speaking, the range spans from classic recordings with big voices and slow tempos (probably the most famous being Karl Böhm’s 1962 recording with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Fiordiligi) to recordings by period-instrument bands at fleeter speeds and with lighter voices (such as René Jacobs’s with Véronique Gens as Fiordiligi) – with everything in between. Particular recordings to look out for include Daniel Barenboim’s recording with Lella Cuberli as Fiordiligi, Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s with Miah Persson and Teodor Currentzis’s with Simone Kermes.

More to discover

The obvious next step is Mozart’s other operas. From Mitridate, re di Ponto (written when he was just 14) through to La clemenza di Tito, via Lucio Silla, La finta giardiniera, Idomeneo, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte, there is so much to enjoy from this opera master. If you’re looking for even more Mozart with a particular accent on virtuoso soprano writing then try his Mass in C minor as well. Where to go next? Fiordiligi has cousins in the strong-willed Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio, and in many of Verdi’s heroines, including Violetta from La traviata, Hélène from Les Vêpres siciliennes and Elisabetta from Don Carlo – or for strong female characters whose music is written with more than a hint of a smile try Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia or Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.

Così fan tutte runs until 19 October 2016. Tickets are still available.

The production will be broadcast to cinemas around the world on 17 October 2016. Find your nearest cinema screening.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Kevin B responded on 1 October 2016 at 3:29pm Reply

    Thank you Rachel for these articles on the musical highlights of the various operas. They are both entertaining and instructive, especially to a relative beginner like me.

    I shall be coming to see Cosi on Monday 3rd Oct, but whether the production can come anywhere near my absolute favourite, the Nicholas Hytner production from Glyndebourne, (seen on DVD, not live unfortunately), remains to be seen.

    On the highs and lows of 'Come scoglio', perhaps you'd like to comment on this bit of gossip from the opera's wiki page:

    "According to William Mann, Mozart disliked prima donna Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, da Ponte's arrogant mistress for whom the role of Fiordiligi had been created. Knowing her idiosyncratic tendency to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, Mozart filled her showpiece aria Come scoglio with constant leaps from low to high and high to low in order to make Ferrarese's head "bob like a chicken" onstage."

    So was Mozart sending up the operatic conventions of the age or just having a laugh at Da Ponte and Ferrarese's expense, (or both)?

    • Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager) responded on 5 October 2016 at 5:59pm

      Hi Kevin,

      I imagine both! Thanks very much for sharing this.

      All best,

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