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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492: Giunse alfin il momento … Deh vieni, non tardar, o gioia bella (Susanna)[4:17]; Voi che sapete (Cherubino)(with embellishments by Domenico Corri)[3:06];
Ch’io mi scordi di te? … Non temer, amato bene K. 505 (Idamante)(from a revision of the opera Idomeneo)[10:36];
Cosě fan tutte, K. 588: In uomini, in soldati (Despina)[2:55]; Ei parte … Senti! …Ah, no! … Per pietŕ, ben mio, perdona (Fiordiligi)[9:33]; Č amore un ladroncello (Dorabella)[3:13];
La clemenza di Tito, K. 621: Non piů di fiori vaghe catene (Vitellia)[7:06];
Idomeneo, K. 366: Quando avran fine omai … Padre, germani, addio! (Ilia)[8:01];
Vado, ma dove? o Dei! K. 583 (Madama Lucilla) (insertion in the opera Il burbero di buon core by Martin y Soler)[4:29];
Le nozze di Figaro: Non so piů cosa son, cosa faccio (Cherubino) [2:46];
Alma grande, e nobil core! K. 578 (Madama)(insertion in the opera I due baroni di Rocca Azzurra by Domenico Cimarosa [4:28];
Le nozze di Figaro: Giunse alfin il momento … Al desio di chi t’adora, K. 577 (Susanna)(replacing Deh vieni non tardar at the revival in Vienna, 29 August 1789)[7:29];
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo)
Jos van Immerseel (fortepiano)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. AIR Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London, December 2005
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 00289 477 5799 [67:56]

Magdalena Kožená is still listed as mezzo-soprano on this disc but she is, it seems moving more and more into the soprano repertoire. Her timbre has become lighter, more soprano-ish since her auspicious debut a handful of years ago with that delightful song recital with Dvořák, Janacek and Martinu (see review). Listening again to that disc confirms my memory – even though the difference is marginal. What has not changed at all, however, is the beauty of tone, the delicate phrasing and her outstanding technical accomplishment.

The programme on this delectable disc is drawn from both what is generally regarded as mezzo and soprano repertoire. She executes all of it with her accustomed style and elegance. Not that the division in voice types was that clear in Mozart’s time as it gradually became during the romantic period and many sopranos – or mezzos – have moved between the roles in the same opera during their careers. Starting as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and then becoming Susanna before with advanced age graduating to Contessa is not that uncommon. Kožená thinks, and rightly so, that the Countess is too early for her, even though the role should be well within her scope. Her somewhat older colleague Andrea Rost, on a Mozart recital that I reviewed about a year and a half ago (see review), sang all three of them and also included Barbarina and Marcellina for good measure. Kožená on her side sings all three female parts from Cosě fan tutte, and differentiates well between them.

As I have already intimated the quality of the singing is a joy from beginning to end. Sir Simon’s longstanding acquaintance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment guarantees accompaniments of the highest calibre with well sprung rhythms and homogenous sound. Jos van Immerseel’s fortepiano adds its brittle colours to the orchestral web, most exposed in the long aria written for Nancy Storace’s farewell concert in 1787 (tr. 3).

It’s always a pleasure to hear the old favourite arias well sung and there are a good handful of them here. There are also some that are not so frequently heard, among them a couple of inserts for other composers’ operas. Even more odd than those is the heavily embellished version of Cherubino’s Voi che sapete, the ornamentation not by Mozart’s hand but by Domenico Corri. Corri was born in Rome in 1746, moved to Edinburgh at the age of 25 and later to London, where he published a guide on “how singers should decorate their lines in order to ‘improve’ their expressive potential”. Whether the decorations imply an improvement is debatable, what they definitely do is to change the character of the role. Cherubino is also in Mozart’s original a restless teenager graphically depicted in Non so piů cosa son, cosa faccio. He may “sigh and groan” and “flutter and tremble” in Voi che sapete but the simple unadorned melody of this arietta also shows a more concentrated, more mature, more determined young man behind the one who doesn’t know what he is doing. Figaro comments on his restlessness at the end of act one when calling him farfallone (little butterfly) in his aria. Had he heard signore Corri’s decoration he might instead have named him colibri. It is interesting and entertaining to hear these amendments for once and it is skilfully done but I would have liked her to include also an unadorned version, just to show its superiority.

Susanna’s lovely fourth act aria opens the recital, deliciously sung, but as the final number we are also treated to the replacement aria he wrote for Adriana Ferrarese in 1789. The recitative is the same but the new aria is much more overt and, just as the embellishments of Voi che sapete, present Susanna in a different light, still lovely but harder, more capricious. Probably the singer wasn’t capable of expressing the warmth a good Susanna should have. He wrote to his wife: “I believe the little aria /Un moto di gioia/ I have made for Ferrarese will please, if she is capable of singing it in an artless manner, which I very much doubt.” That little aria, which Kožená doesn’t sing, is included in the Mozart recital with Miah Persson (see review), also providing the title for that disc. I recommend readers to try that one as well. Kožená sings her aria with aplomb and it is doubtless interesting to have this version at hand, just to realise how right the “real” Susanna aria is. Besides the quite intricate embellishments there is also some interesting colouring of the orchestra through the basset-horns which provide a slightly sombre backdrop. Of course Susanna isn’t in the happiest of states here.

On the recent complete recording of La clemenza di Tito under Mackerras (see review) Kožená was Sesto. She gave a wonderful reading of that part. Here she instead essays Vitellia’s big set-piece, the one with the basset-horn obbligato. This rondo-aria is notoriously difficult with its wide range, reaching well down into the soprano basement. On the complete recording Hillevi Martinpelto sang it splendidly but she had some trouble with the lowest notes. Interestingly enough – and that was also something that made me think she is moving towards the soprano department – Kožená has no problems with the top but she is no more successful than Martinpelto with the lower ones. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are tuned at A=430 Hz, which in effect lowers the tessitura a half-tone.

There have been a lot of good Mozart recordings this year, both complete operas and recitals, both new products and reissues. The last few months I have already waxed lyrical about Miah Persson and Bryn Terfel. Next in my review pile is still another DG disc with several important singers, topped by newest soprano star Anna Netrebko. The present disc with Kožená also belongs in this not-to-be-missed category. Being a Mozart enthusiast in the operatic field this year involves deep incisions in the bank account.

Göran Forsling






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