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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte - Drama giocoso in two acts, K.588 (1789-90)
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Fiordiligi - Pilar Lorengar (sop)
Dorabella - Teresa Berganza (mezzo)
Ferrando - Ryland Davies (ten)
Guglielmo - Tom Krause (bar)
Don Alfonso - Gabriel Bacquier (bass)
Despina - Jane Berbié (mezzo)
Jeffrey Tate, harpsichord
Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti
rec. Kingsway Hall, London October/November 1973/74. ADD
DECCA 475 7033 [3 CDs: 46.53 + 71.04 + 65.48]

Decca have plundered their back catalogue for this 1970s Così. Solti had conducted the opera many times prior to this studio recording, giving his first performance at the Munich Opera House back in 1951. He resigned his position at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1971 to take up his duties as the Musical Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, although he would return to Covent Garden every year for the next ten years or so.

Così was Mozart’s third and last collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. The première was given at the Burgtheater, Vienna in January 1790, achieving only a moderate degree of success. Interestingly Haydn attended at least two of the rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the first production.

This is an opera without a leading character. The cast comprises six equal partners, who are equally significant and are given equal musical weight. Mozart, more than he had ever done before in an opera, speaks of human relations, feelings, love, betrayal, happiness and jealousy. His orchestration is of chamber proportions and a prime example of the clarity and concision of instrumental scoring favoured by neo-classical ideals.

In the short but delightful overture Solti and the LPO permit the effervescent wit of the opera to shine through. Especially appealing is the principal section with the rapid theme that courses gracefully through strings and then woodwind.

The Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar as Fiordiligi, the sister of Dorabella, was an experienced singer and one can easily understand why she was cast in the role. Her soprano is light and creamy at the bottom and middle of her range and although she does not have a high volume she is able to expand her voice easily. The only drawback is that her distinctive vibrato intrudes and can prove distracting. Her celebrated arias, "Come scoglio" and "Ah guarda, sorella" are sung to considerable effect.

Tom Krause, the Finnish bass-baritone, is a supremely heroic and expressive Guglielmo. He shapes and phrases the aria, "Donne mie, la fate a tanti" with richness and consistent strength, never straining or pushing. At times, he is deeply moving especially when whispering his tender love words in Dorabella’s ear in "Il core vi dono".

To cast Teresa Berganza, the Spanish mezzo, as Dorabella the sister of Fiordiligi, was a fine choice. Bemoaning her sad fate in the aria "Smanie implacabili" Berganza’s voice is rich, strong and secure with a well focused tonal beauty.

As officer Ferrando the Welsh tenor Ryland Davies performs acceptably. He rather lacks variety of expression and in his aria, "Un’aura amorosa" it feels as if he is concentrating too much on the technical side.

The French mezzo Jane Berbié is highly attractive and appealing in her role as Despina, the ladies’ chambermaid. Despina has three wonderful arias: "In uomini, in soldati," "Questo e quel pezzo" and "Una donna a quindici anni." Berbié is clear and colourful with a confident style of projection. However, she does occasionally snatch uncomfortably at the higher notes.

As the old philosopher Don Alfonso the French bass Gabriel Bacquier is strong and resounding. He is especially characterful in the arias; "Alla bella Despinetta" and "Tutti accusan le donne".

One of the main highlights comes in the famous trio when Lorengar, Berganza and Bacquier as Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Don Alfonso are pleading for a safe and tranquil sea journey in "Soave sia il vento". It is hard to imagine this trio being sung better; even if Bacquier might have been positioned slightly further forward.

It is a while since I have heard this version of Così and re-acquaintance has demonstrated how enjoyable and well performed this version is. Solti was at the time of the recording a German citizen and had been awarded an honorary Knighthood for his work at Covent Garden. The recording captures Solti in his prime. His enthusiasm and commitment cannot be faulted and the LPO are clearly well prepared with first-rate work from the Royal Opera House Chorus. At times there is a slight shortage of charm and sophistication, which is what one has almost come to expect, yet readily accepts, owing to the genuine passion and the love of music-making that Solti exudes.

This is a highly respectable version from Solti and one that I will often return to. However, my personal favourites are the versions from: Böhm and the Philharmonia, with Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Steffek from 1962 on EMI 5 67382-2 and using period instruments, Jacobs and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and Choir with Gens, Fink, Güra from 1999 on Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901 663-65. The Artsworld Satellite Channel have been recently showing Jürgen Flimm’s production of a live performance of Così from the Operahaus Zurich in 2000 with Harnoncourt and the soloists Bartoli, Nikiteanu, Baltsa, Sacca, Chausson and Widmer. An excellent production and performance that is well worth viewing. It is available on a DVD No.100012.

The Decca sound quality from the early 1970s is most agreeable and especially clear. The booklet notes have English translations of the libretto but are let down by the lack of an essay and a synopsis.

A worthy addition to any serious collection in this the year of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

Michael Cookson





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