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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Cosi Fan Tutte, or The School for Lovers (1790) [154.21]
Fiordiligi Ina Souez
Dorabella Luise Helletsgruber
Ferrando Heddle Nash
Guglielmo Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder
Don Alfonso John Brownlee
Despina Irene Eisinger
Chorus and Orchestra of the Glyndebourne Festival/Fritz Busch
Recorded 6 June 1934, 28 June 1935 at Glyndebourne Theatre, Sussex, UK. ADD
Newly restored from original 78rpm sources by Ward Marston.
Notes in English including complete track listing and synopsis. No libretto.
NAXOS 8.110280-81 [2 CDs: 154.21]


Comparison analogue recordings:
Fritz Busch, Glyndebourne 1935 "Mozart Society Edition" LP Turnabout TV 4120/22
Fritz Busch, Glyndebourne 1950, Borriello, Kunz, Lewis, etc. Testament SBT 1040
Eugen Jochum, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey, Häfliger, etc. DG 449 580-2
Östman, Drottningholm Court Theatre Thorn EMI HBO Video

I have been critical of a couple of Mr. Marstonís transfers in the past for leaving in too much background hiss and crackle. I think I know why he does it ó it creates the spurious impression of liveness and covers the artefacts of digital signal processing. But here I am delighted to see heís done everything just exactly right. This is a recording you can enjoy listening to. The orchestral bass is firm, the voices have an amazing clarity and vivacity, which would make any deficiencies in the performance brutally clear. To my taste, both the 1950 Busch recording and the Jochum Berlin Opera stereo recording have better voices and achieve better drama in the opening trio and scene than in this 1935 version. If we must find another flaw with this classic recording, it would be just that the voices are a little too mature for the parts.* This is supposed to be a story about kids who donít know anything about love, and the voices come across as individuals old enough to have been married for decades. But are we really after realism? OK, so opera is an impossible art form, a perfect performance can never been achieved, and this one is far, far better than most. This opera is a showcase for ensemble singing, and as that itís a consummate masterpiece. So, if the orchestra spits out the overture as fast as they can, almost contemptuously so, you can just skip over it or play another version.

I listened to a little of the LP version of this same recording. The sound is not so bad in terms of frequency range, but there is the ever present vinyl noise. How did we put up with it for so long? And the relatively primitive analogue filtering resulted in congested, distorted high frequencies which quickly cause listening fatigue. Dynamic range has been attenuated which also causes listening fatigue. This CD transfer is remarkable not only for its wide frequency range, but also for its very low distortion and presence which makes it pleasant to listen to.

The two preceding Mozart/DaPonte operas have been extensively analysed in terms of Mozartís personal and political motives. Both Mozart and Liszt in their earliest years fell intensely in love with women they couldnít have because of social convention, women who were required by their families to marry into money and respectability. Both composers spent the rest of their lives flouting social convention whenever they got the chance. Mozart was more or less manoeuvred into marrying the sister of his beloved. At the time of its composition, both Mozart and his wife were pursuing outside interests. Was this opera a message to his true love, his wifeís sister, to set her thinking about a husband swap? Or was it just Mozartís fantasy of what he wished could happen? Had happened?

At one level this is a nasty, cynical opera, gleefully trampling on innocence. It was after all general distaste for the plot which kept the opera off the stage for nearly 140 years in spite of the magnificent music. I like the incident in the Met production where Cecilia Bartoli as Despina throws the money back in Don Alfonsoís face and stomps off stage, becoming bitterly aware of having been used to accomplish a nasty thing. Iím with her. I believe it is the La Scala production where Montarsolo portrays Don Alfonso as a truly wicked, nasty man.

OK, you say to me, Iím missing the point. Yes, the devil is a trickster, yes Mozart was tricked by fate; but if he can work through all this so can I. Itís just an opera, that is, a collection of songs to be sung, itís not music drama, not Wagner or Berg. The plot wouldnít have been taken all that seriously in Vienna; people were at the theatre for an evening of pretty singing. And whatever you think, or expect, an evening of pretty singing is what you always get. A friend has requested that the "Departure Trio" (#8) be played at his funeral, and this performance easily meets the requisite standard of not a single dry eye in the house. This music is profoundly sublime; why would anybody try to keep in mind that dramatically itís founded on deception and most of the characters are lying?

The "standard cuts" observed in this recording are: #7, Duettino Ferrando & Guglielmo; #24 Aria Ferrando, #27 Aria Cavatina, Don Alfonso, Ferrando Guglielmo; #28 Aria, Despina, Dorabella, Fiordiligi. Several recitatives are omitted and a number are shortened, but what is included, accompanied by bonky chords on the piano, is accomplished with notable drama and enthusiasm. Considering the attitude toward recordings at the time, it is more remarkable that any recitatives are included at all.

These days our perception of recorded opera is based on videos of staged productions, and we are not huddled at the speakers of our audio disk players trying to visualise what is happening. These days we consider the acting ability as well as the singing ability of the performers, and even the staging, sets and costumes. This is much more natural, what opera had always been, until that brief period recently past when the great opera recording stars were judged on their ability to put all of the drama into the vocal sound. It is therefore very unfair to compare classic opera sound recordings with the sound tracks of video productions, and I have not done so.

*I particularly recommend that everyone who admires, or wants to admire, this opera view the Drottningholm Court Opera video production. Here the singers are very young, and suddenly the story makes more sense when you see children acting like children.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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