Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Così fan tutte
-
Dramma giocoso in two acts
Fiordiligi … Edita Gruberova (soprano)
Dorabella … Delores Ziegler (mezzo-soprano)
Guglielmo …
Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass)
Ferrando … Luis Lima (tenor)
Despina … Teresa Stratas (soprano)
Don Alfonso … Paolo Montarsolo (bass)
Vienna Philharmonic/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Filmed at Munich, Bavaria Studios, 1-15 June 1988
Sound Recording: Vienna, Studio Rosenhügel, 25 February – 12 March 1988
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00440 073 4237 [90.59 + 84.30]

 

 

This is a stimulating production with total commitment from a strong cast and charm second to none. Sadly it was Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s last production following his brilliantly successful Figaro and Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia. The use of film with particularly effective camera work, ensures that the stylised setting and costumes come to vibrant life.

Ponnelle set the production in a Palladian villa in front of a green sward leading to the sea. To ensure that they look like sisters Edita Gruberova (Fiordiligi) and Delores Ziegler (Dorabella) are similarly bewigged and extravagantly if not flamboyantly costumed (see the disc cover above): not twins, but not far short. Ferruccio Furlanetto (Guglielmo) and Luis Lima (Ferrando) remain easily distinguishable by individual height and colouring.

Curiously that leads to what is probably my only niggle about the production. When the girls finally succumb to ‘choosing’ their Albanian, da Ponte wrote for Dorabella, …Prendero quel brunettino…(“I’ll take the little dark one” of the subtitle), which describes perfectly Lima in the role of Ferrando her betrothed; whereas she is in fact choosing Furlanetto (Guglielmo), her sister’s betrothed, which is the basis of the exchanged lovers and the school of the title. Could the words not have been altered slightly? Or is this a deliberate use of soloists’ physical attributes with words intended to emphasise the unreality of what follows.

Initially I thought I would have a real reservation about the sound recording taking place some three months before the filming – you can almost always note points where sound and mouth movements are not synchronised – but not here. There might just be a hint of it with Furlanetto but the overwhelming advantage is that the singing is excellently recorded with no-one wandering ‘off-microphone’; whilst the filming ensures that the singing is truly effortless and enables the cast to concentrate on acting which they do to the highest standards.

The American mezzo Ziegler is a delicious, attractive Dorabella: big-eyed, innocent, easily leading herself, and being led, astray; if ‘astray’ it is; an important point made in this production, about which more below. Ziegler is a true mezzo who can produce the smoothest of deep cream sounds – beguiling - with most of her role falling in the central part of the vocal range.

Conversely, Mozart decided that he would stretch his soprano and expect her to sing from bottom A to top C. Who better to respond to such demands than Edita Gruberova? …Come scoglio… is the perfect vehicle for her to show off her fantastic range, her amazingly accurate leaps with every note middled and heft in plenty to drive home the crystal clear words. Of course, great tenderness is also required of her, for example in …Per pietà…. Gruberova delivers this with great emotion. When she floats a note you almost think it is still in the air after she has left the set.

Lima and Furlanetto are excellently matched and paired: they both crackle with physical and vocal energy, now against Paolo Montarsolo (Don Alfonso) drawing swords together, now scorning the other’s attractiveness to women. Lima’s tenor is strong and intense but also easily able to cope with his moments of sadness during which he produces some strong colouring. Furlanetto, similarly, has vocal power with considerable warmth. Both share a strong sense of dynamics used to great effect. Indeed it is the ensembles that are a joy. There is not a weak moment between the four of them: the vocal balance is outstanding with interaction to match.

Montarsolo (Don Alfonso) is the sceptic. His is not the strongest bass and with his mature years it is not surprising that his voice has become drier and that he is less comfortable towards the higher end of his range. Whatever those shortcomings, they are more than compensated by some consummate mid-range and recitative delivery and incredibly varied and telling facial expressions. This is a Don Alfonso who is a true school-master of ceremonies superbly backed up by direction and camera work enabling us to join him in his philosophic role.

Teresa Stratas (Despina) produces superb characterisation. She is the ideal effervescent Despina if a little squally on high at forte with a slight suggestion of note uncertainty. But she fizzes and sparks about the set, cajoles and provokes with strong humour. With Montarsolo she plots and schemes; together they demonstrate all too clearly the strength to be gained from a combination of ‘old heads and young shoulders’.

Her disguised Doctor is convincing. Her notary outstanding: uproariously sounding like a strangulated parrot with a massive limp. Had there been an audience she would have stopped the performance twice: traversing the stage with the shorter foot on a stage-width step so that she walked ‘normally’ (pure theatre); later having missed her seat, re-appearing with her nose just above the table to read the marriage contract. Almost pure farce but with a generous touch of class.

Class is also the word for the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. Only with the chorus are they slightly overpowering so that it is difficult to distinguish the words. At all other times the music is driven by the simple premise of telling the story, complementing the singers and providing phrasing and dynamics to match.

To return now to my opening: “a stimulating production” and my reference to “astray”. When the disguised Guglielmo is courting Dorabella, she removes his yashmak, realises who he is and takes off his false moustache and beard. They promptly disappear into the nearby shrubbery from which they later appear significantly déshabillé. The accompanying notes by Klaus Oehl tell us that this recognition was Ponnelle’s daring idea. Later Ferrando, in disguise costume, but with neither yashmak nor false moustache or beard, and therefore totally recognisable, courts Fiordiligi who submits.

Prima facie the girls’ knowledge as to the true identity of their Albanian lovers makes a nonsense of da Ponte’s writing for the last scene – the returning betrotheds, forgiveness and reconciliation. However, does it make for a dream interlude in the lives of the girls whilst their betrotheds were away? What is the significance of the last longing look of Ferrando and Fiordiligi whilst standing with their original betrotheds? This is no happy ending. The four move to different parts of the set in varying postures of dejection and despair. Dramma giocoso indeed.

The two acts are conveniently assigned to two discs. The second is completed with Deutsche Grammophon advertising and a half hour excerpt from a rehearsal which I am sorry to say I found less than enthralling.

Robert McKechnie

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