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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Così fan tutte (1790)
Janice Watson (soprano) – Fiordiligi; Diana Montague (mezzo) – Dorabella; Christopher Maltman (baritone) – Guglielmo; Toby Spence (tenor) – Ferrando; Lesley Garrett (soprano) – Despina; Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) – Don Alfonso
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Watford Colosseum, 3-6, 8-11 January 2007
Sung in English. English libretto enclosed.
CHANDOS CHAN3152 [3 CDs: 64:43 + 51:11 + 44:40]


Experience Classicsonline

That Sir Charles is a superb Mozartean is a well-known fact, and he is well documented on record. Most monumental is his complete cycle of the symphonies. He has also been successful in the field of opera, most recently with La clemenza di Tito for DG, which ranks among the best.

He recorded Così fan tutte fifteen years ago for Telarc with an international cast including Felicity Lott and Jerry Hadley. A highlights disc was issued a while ago (see review) and it confirmed that the set is competitive in the crowded field of Così recordings, where it rubs shoulders with Karajan’s mono recording from the 1950s, now on Naxos, EMI (see review) and Regis (see review), Karl Böhm’s second version with Schwarzkopf and Christa Ludwig and possibly a couple of others. As always Mackerras is very aware of performance practice and inspires his singers to embellish the vocal line. Fifteen years ago he employed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, playing on modern instruments but with 18th century style. When he returns to the opera for this English language version he goes the whole hog and employs a real ‘period’ band, the wholly admirable Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Like the Telarc version this is mostly a swift and virile reading but even crisper thanks to the period instruments. ‘Swift’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hard-driven’; Sir Charles makes the music breathe and the overture, the airiest of orchestral pieces, flutters like a butterfly in the garden on a warm summer’s day, even lighter when played as here. The delicate scoring, especially the woodwind, becomes beautifully transparent in his hands. As a whole the many tender moments of the score are well catered for while there is no lack of power in the dramatic outbursts. The chorus Alla gloria militar (‘Oh, the soldier’s life for me!’ in the English version, CD 1 tr 14) is intensely warlike and both finales fizz along with spirited elegance.

The feeling of speed and dramatic unity is properly underlined by the unification of recitatives and musical numbers: they grip into each other attacca. The secco recitatives are stylishly accompanied by a fortepiano.

The cast is a strong one with two favourite ‘veterans’ in the all-important roles of Don Alfonso and Despina. They are the ‘masterminds’, who manipulate the four lovers and for a successful performance of Così fan tutte those characters need both verbal acuity and expressive acting. In this case they have both. It might be argued that Lesley Garrett overdoes things at times with distorted voice and laughs and giggles but I prefer that to a straight-faced reading and she sings with her customary finesse; her aria At fifteen a girl already Must be truly wise and worldly is as fresh as a newly opened bottle of sparkling water. Thomas Allen’s voice has hardly aged at all and he is impressive in the aria Man accuses the woman (CD 3 tr. 10) – the one which ends with Così fan tutte! – and in recitatives as well as musical numbers his enunciation and phrasing is a pleasure. Christopher Maltman is both virile and sweet-voiced as Guglielmo (or Guilelmo as Da Ponte invariably spelled his name) and Toby Spence can fine down his rather bright tenor to lyrical tenderness, as in the beautifully sung Her eye so alluring (Un’ aura amorosa). He is even more impressive in the duet with Fiordiligi in act 2 All too slowly the hours are fleeting. Janice Watson has both the creamy beauty and dramatic bite, and also the wide register for a successful reading of Fiordiligi’s role. Only on some top notes she can sound a bit forced. As Dorabella we hear Diana Montague, whose mezzo-soprano is as secure and well-modulated as ever. Her duet with Guglielmo is one of the high-spots of this performance.

It is however as an ensemble performance, as an entity, that this recording stands out, no doubt thanks to Sir Charles Mackerras’s overriding influence. The recorded sound is reliable, as it mostly is with Chandos products, though for my taste some of the recitatives are a shade too backwardly balanced. The English text version by Marmaduke Browne was made for a performance by the Royal College of Music at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1890. It has been adapted by John Cox and presumably somewhat modernized but it still has a rather old-fashioned tinge, which isn’t at all unbecoming.

English-speaking readers who prefer opera in the vernacular need not hesitate: this is from all points of view a splendid reading. Those who normally choose recordings in the original language should find this a highly satisfying version with Sir Charles Mackerras’s lively conducting and the six accomplished singing-actors co-operating as a unity that is actually more than the sum of its parts.

Göran Forsling


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