It is more than twenty years since Solti last recorded Così for Decca, and if that earlier version was far from ideally cast, this new one more than makes amends. Above all, it has a commanding Fiordiligi in Renée Fleming, who conveys all the tragic vulnerability of this central character. Her performance of the great second-act rondo ‘Per pietà’ would be enough to melt the hardest of hearts. Anne Sofie von Otter and Olaf Bär are in fine form, too; and while Adelina Scarabelli is not exactly a mistress of disguises (she scarcely alters her voice at all for Despina’s part as the mesmeric doctor), her vitality is irresistible. More contentious is the Ferrando of Frank Lopardo. True, he can scale down his voice admirably, but all too often he lacks a genuine sense of line, and his intonation is unreliable.
The old philosopher Don Alfonso enrages his two friends, the officers Ferrando and Guglielmo, with his claim that their fiancées will sooner or later be unfaithful to them - like all women. He proposes a wager, which the two friends accept. They swear on their honour as soldiers that they will prove him wrong and that Dorabella and Fiordiligi are not like “all women”. The immaculately restored eighteenth-century Court Theatre at the country residence of the Swedish Royal Family is the ideal home for period opera. Ever since Drottningholm Court Theatre was rediscovered in the 1920s, it has served as a living memorial to the fabulous extravagance of courtly entertainment and provided the wherewithal for the recreation of the spectacular scenic transformations of the seventeenth and eighteenth century operatic repertoire. The conductor Arnold Östman was appointed Drottningholm’s Artistic Director in 1980 and immediately set about establishing a Drottningholm Mozart style, attempting to recapture an authentic flavour through detailed historical research and the use of period instruments. He collaborates with German producer Willy Decker on this ever-popular Mozart comedy with an extensively rehearsed cast of young Swedish singers who “…proved a triumph of stylish teamwork, with singers and orchestra listening to each other, almost as it were breathing together.” (Daily Telegraph)
Sony Classical continues its major Mozart opera project with conductor Teodor Currentzis and his orchestra & choir MusicAeterna. A ‘no-compromise’ studio recording cycle of Mozart’s three Da Ponte operas. Living in a unique artistic community established on the edge of Siberia, the musicians work and record under ideal conditions towards Currentzis’ stated goal “to show what can be achieved if you avoid the factory approach of the classical music mainstream”. The soloists’ vocal technique is also markedly different to modern operatic interpretation, with a focus on intimacy and clarity, a use of vibrato remarkably restrictive even by today’s ‘period practice’ standards as well as an approach to melodic ornamentation derived from historic sources which cannot be heard in other performances of these works.
In the early 1990s Daniel Barenboim recorded the three Da Ponte operas with the Berlin Philharmonic. The BPO had played "Figaro" and "Don Giovanni" many times, but this was the first time that the group had ever tackled "Cosi fan tutte." Perhaps that is why they sound so fresh and energized under the thoughtful baton of Barenboim. Mozart's operas are usually performed with a small chamber or opera house orchestra, but this time the score of "Cosi" (which has so many beautiful, subtle touches, and is almost a celebration of beauty itself) is given the full treatment of perhaps the greatest orchestra in the world. While the resulting sound is somewhat "bigger" and more "lush" than is usual, Barenboim does manage to keep things appropriately light and "classical," just as he has so successfully done in the piano concertos which he is recording with the BPO.
When this staging was presented in 1992, in various theatres, Gardiner decided to be his own director because he didn't trust any available alternative to be faithful to Da Ponte's and Mozart's original. In the circumstances his was a sensible decision because his deeply discerning stage interpretation perfectly seconds his own musically perceptive reading. His keen understanding of what this endlessly fascinating work is about is made plain in his absorbing essay in the booklet.
"For the sisters of Ferrara, [Klemperer] had amply voiced singers very apt for his approach. Price and Minton were then in their early prime, with warm, sappy, peaches-and-cream tone, and ideally matching each other in timbre. Their duets show as much. Price's exemplary breath-control enables her to cope with the slow speeds adopted for Fiordiligi's arias and display that sovereign gift of hers for bold, long Mozartian phrases. Minton is hardly less remarkable in that respect. Alva's diction does make Muti's point (see July, page 36) that as soon as an Italian artist comes on the scene one hears the advantage of pointed, felicitous enunciation of the text; he also sings mellifluously and with character. By 1971, Evans was already an Alfonso rather than a Guglielmo, and for all his accomplishment in the latter role one wishes he was singing the former rather than the po-faced Hans Sotin. However, Lucia Popp's vivacious, smiling Despina manages to bring Sotin to life in their important exchanges." (Alan Blyth, Gramophone)
Mozart's genius in setting to music Da Ponte's comic play of love, infidelity and forgiveness marks Così fan tutte as one of the great works of art from the Age of Enlightenment. Nicholas Hytner's beautiful production for the Glyndebourne Festival in 2006, with its sure touch and theatrical know-how, lives up to its promise to be 'shockingly traditional', while Iván Fischer teases artful performances from an outstanding international cast of convincing young lovers.
Who loves whom in Così fan tutte, Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s cruelly comic reflection on desire, fidelity and betrayal? Or have the confusions to which the main characters subject one another ensured that in spite of the heartfelt love duets and superficially fleetfooted comedy nothing will work any longer and that a sense of emotional erosion has replaced true feelings? Così fan tutte is a timeless work full of questions that affect us all. The Academy Award-winning director Michael Haneke once said that he was merely being precise and did not want to distort reality.
There are many things to enjoy about this period-instrument Cosi: the convincing sense of style that runs through it, the sweetness of the orchestral sound, the due observance of the appoggiaturas (which matches the music so happily to the natural stress of the words), the general fluency and sense of theatrical presentation. Some listeners may find, as I do, certain of the tempos excessively rapid. This new CD ver sion provides a warm, well-defined sound, in general a marginal improvement on the LPs, of course without the slightest surface interference and with just a touch more of clarity and fullness, especially in the ensembles, where the different threads are even more easily distinguished. And the trumpets and drums, on whose prominence I remarked in discussing the LPs, come through still more markedly here. As before, the woodwind balance is exemplary. Firmly recommended to any open-minded lover of Mozart. S.S.