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Don Alfonso, a gentleman, goads two young soldiers into a wager regarding their fiancées’ fidelity. Ferrando and Guglielmo are convinced their lovers – Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respectively – are true to them, and agree to test the women’s faithfulness through trickery. The men agree to do everything Don Alfonso asks.
Sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi are met in their garden by Don Alfonso. He tells them that their fiancés have been recalled to military duty. The two soldiers arrive to bid their unhappy fiancées farewell. The sisters are inconsolable. Once the men have departed, their maid Despina suggests that Dorabella and Fiordiligi amuse themselves in the meantime by meeting other men. The women refuse to be unfaithful to their lovers.
Don Alfonso speaks privately with Despina, enlisting her aid in introducing two prospective lotharios to the sisters. He then presents to Despina two “Albanians,” who are none other than Guglielmo and Ferrando in disguise. When Fiordiligi and Dorabella arrive, the men proclaim their affection. The women demand that the strangers leave their house.
Later that day, the Albanians burst into the garden where the two sisters still sit, lamenting the absence of their sweethearts. The men drink what they claim is poison, expressing their wish to die for love. A doctor arrives (Despina in disguise) and “revives” the two men.
Despina attempts to persuade Dorabella and Fiordiligi to be more receptive to the Albanians’ advances. The sisters reluctantly agree that a flirtation might prove a welcome distraction in the absence of their fiancés. The men return once more to serenade the sisters, and this time Dorabella exchanges words of love with Guglielmo – to his astonishment. Ferrando has less luck with Fiordiligi.
Ferrando is told of his lover’s betrayal and vows revenge. Don Alfonso reminds the soldiers that the test is not yet over.
Dorabella confesses her new fondness for her Albanian to Despina. Fiordiligi admits that she also has feelings for the Albanian (the disguised Ferrando), but scolds her sister’s lack of control and vows to remain true to her fiancé. But when Ferrando returns, secretly accompanied by Guglielmo and Don Alfonso, Fiordiligi yields to his advances.
Ferrando and Guglielmo lament their lovers’ betrayal and express a desire for revenge. Don Alfonso urges the now-bitterly-disillusioned soldiers to marry the women.
Wedding preparations are quickly made. Don Alfonso produces a notary – Despina in disguise – who in turn produces a marriage contract. A drum is heard, signaling the return of the soldiers. Having hastily removed their disguises, Ferrando and Guglielmo appear and feign outrage at the incriminating scene. But when they put on their Albanian disguises, the truth comes out.
In the final chorus all four lovers, in the spirit of reconciliation, sing hopefully of accepting life as it presents itself and maintaining a sense of humour. But will they be able to when faced with an uncertain future?
“Las Dos Fridas” painting by Frida Kahlo © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D. F.
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