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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791) Così fan tutte, ossia la scuola degli amanti (1790) Text by L. Da Ponte.
Fiordiligi - Helena Doese
Dorabella - Sylvia Lindenstrand
Despina - Daniele Perriers
Guglielmo - [Sir] Thomas Allen
Ferrando - Anson Austin
Don Alfonso - Franz Petri
Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Pritchard
Recorded at the Glyndebourne Festival 1975 Sung in Italian.  Subtitles in Deutsch, Français, English, Castellano. Menu languages: Italiano, Deutsch, Français, English, Castellano. Notes in English, Français, Deutsch. DVD-9 NTSC 4:3 format  Region 0 “all regions”  PCM Stereo 2.0 sound.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 081 [158.00]


Comparison Recordings:

Niklaus Harnoncourt, J.P.Ponnelle, Decca Laserdisk 440 071 524-1

Eugen Jochum, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey, Häfliger.  DG 449 580-2

Arnold Östman, Drottningholm Court Theatre  Thorn EMI HBO VHS

Peter Sellars, Larson,  Kuzma, Maddalena, Sylvan, 1990.  No commercial release.

At one time Cosí Fan Tutte was never performed because of the “immorality” of the plot. However in this immoral age the plot is so much less shocking than daytime television that the opera has certainly caught up in availability to the other two Da Ponte operas in Mozart’s catalogue.  Mozart’s message then and now is, “lighten up, you guys and girls,” but I can’t agree with Peter Sellars that this is an “autobiographical” opera any more than, say, Don Giovanni.  Some recent stagings, notably that of the Met with Bartoli and Muti’s at La Scala have taken the opera very seriously, have made a monster out of Don Alfonso, played him for a heavy type.  In other words, have missed the point.  The Östman staging makes a very good point by casting all the parts as teen-agers.  After all, these people are acting very childishly; it’s absurd to feature full frame video close-ups of singers in their 50s playing these roles.  Unfortunately most teen-age singers don’t have the voices for this virtuoso music.  The best staging I ever saw was with the San Francisco Opera, where they played it as a Turkish fantasy with Ferrando and Guglielmo going off to war on two gigantic pink gauze draped gondolas — Constantinople and Venice come to Naples — with the chorus sitting as spectators at an Italian comedy in side-boxes.  And, of course, no video full-face close-ups of Schwarzkopf or Merriman.

While Sellars’ versions of Figaro and Don Giovanni offered genuine insights into the characters in a contemporary context, even people who know nothing about opera seem to be able to see that his Cosí is an unmitigated disaster.  No one I know has been able to endure it clear through to the end, although like all the Sellars versions the singing and playing are in the main acceptable and at times genuinely inspired.  For example, the “departure trio” is beautifully presented here.

Over the last 50 years (some will say 100 years) we have now had a chance to record virtually every major opera role and ensemble perfectly at least once, so we are now arrived back at the beginning where we can appreciate an opera as a staging and not worry if the singing is perfect or not, since we’ve already had perfect singing somewhere or other.  A night at the opera should be, and now is, a night at the theatre and we have every right to expect a good time and see a good show.

In this recording the four lovers all easily survive their close-ups looking and acting to be in their early twenties.  My thought is that Despina should be at least a little older, perhaps, but here she’s about the same age.  For once when the guys return as Turks they are truly unrecognisable — it took me a while to tell which was which.  Despina does a better than average job of disguising herself and her voice as the doctor, but perhaps the point here is that aristocrats never looked at their servants, including doctors, anyway.

Credible acting is difficult in this drama since in most scenes at least some of the persons on stage are lying, even if they don’t know it yet, but the one place where sincerity must prevail is with the two girls in the “departure trio” at the end of the second scene, and in this production it is nicely sung but remarkably tepid, although perhaps not as bad as the audience seems to think by their sparse applause.  Don Alfonso delivers his soliloquy from the back of the stage, rather than walking up to the footlights as I am more used to seeing.  Everyone is considerably more committed in scene three and after but even here the only people who do any real acting are Despina (Daniele Perriers) and Ferrando (Anson Austin) and, after a while, Guglielmo ([Sir] Thomas Allen); the others generally find a facial expression and stick with it, although it must be said this works OK for Don Alfonso since, apart from occasional derisive laughter, it’s his role to be uninvolved.

Playing the 2.0 channel sound through your surround sound processor opens it up nicely.  Picture is reasonably clear throughout and video direction is good.  Sets and costumes are attractive, but this is a small stage and the departure scene feels cramped for space.  (From Ponnelle we get a diorama of the Bay of Naples.)  Subtitles occasionally seem unsynchronised.  In the final ensemble we have close-ups with name tags on them, including of the conductor.  Final applause is generous, showing that the audience felt they had got their money’s worth.

Paul Shoemaker

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