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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così Fan Tutte (highlights)
Charlotte Margiono – Fiordiligi
Delores Zeigler – Dorabella
Gilles Cachemaille – Guglielmo
Deon van der Walt – Ferrando
Thomas Hampson – Don Alfonso
Anna Steiger – Despina
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec Jan 1991, Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
WARNER APEX 2564 61498-2 [73.58]


Everyone has their favourite Mozart opera. And yet, it so often seems that whichever opera one is listening to at any time seems to be the top contender for favourite Mozart opera. Così Fan Tutte must always be a good bet for the title; Mozart never wrote a tighter opera. Change a single note and the whole would be diminished, and no matter how many great ensemble numbers there are in the other operas, Così Fan Tutte appears as the perfect ensemble opera.

Nonetheless, although Apex have put out a considerable number of releases in their Opera Highlights series – even including Tristan und Isolde and an upcoming Götterdämmerung, one has to wonder if there really is sense in the creation of highlights discs of opera when it is so easy to prepare an edited version using the programmable memory of any CD player. The highlights disc always has the disadvantage of losing the integral storyline; it becomes, in effect a recital programme of songs, the words of which don’t matter. Surely this is only a bad thing. On the other hand, it would be foolish to pretend other than that most people use CDs as background music most of the time. In this context the removal of the recitatives is possibly easy to support, for they have, principally, more dramatic function than musical function. The choices in reducing a complete opera to a little under an hour and a quarter are always going to be arbitrary, and invariably there is much fabulous music lost. Here, at least, the distributions are fairly uniform; Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Guglielmo and Despina are represented by two arias each, Ferrando and Don Alfonso having to make do with one. Most of the disc is made up of the ensemble works, including the great set-piece quintets Alla bella Despinetta and Fortunato l’uom che prende, and this succession of ensemble numbers does make great listening. One just has difficulty in shaking off the feeling that there is dramatic ‘glue’ missing. The story, as in most operas, is stupid enough in the complete version – truncated like this it makes for an uncomfortable dramatic ride, and no matter how stupid the story might be, a complete story is always more satisfying than one with holes in it.

And what of the performance? Here again, one quickly begins to wish that Apex had treated this as a double disc, complete set. At the budget price of Apex discs it would have increased the potential sales exponentially over the increased price. The performances are uniformally excellent – a splendid cast, with a marvellously affecting Fiordiligi in Charlotte Margiono, Thomas Hampson as superb as ever as Don Alfonso, and a particularly beautifully sung Ferrando. It is unfortunate that Deon van der Walt in this role is really only shown off in the lovely Un’aura amorosa towards the end of Act I, but it is worth hearing. The Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera have very little to do but their reputation does precede them. The true consistent glory is in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Not a group that does a lot of operatic work, they nonetheless have no difficulty in bringing all the polish and intense musicianship for which the orchestra is famous. Under the direction of Harnoncourt, with whom the RCO have worked frequently over the years, this recording shows that the Amsterdammers continue to deserve their reputation as one of the world’s very greatest ensembles. As always it is the wonderful blend and piquancy of the strings that is the highlight. Harnoncourt’s direction is crisp and insightful throughout; blending the singers and the orchestra superbly.

Such a fine performance would be easily recommendable at any time, and becomes even more so at budget price. If the recording were complete, it would be a strong contender in any selection of top Così recordings. As it stands however, being only a selection of movements, it is hard to recommend this to anybody with a serious interest in Mozart opera. This is a pity.

Peter Wells

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