This being a live performance from almost thirty years ago,
a few allowances have to be made for a bit of background rumble
and some - but not much - audience intrusion. There’s
some laughter (not objectionable) and the occasional cough but
as ever these contributions are perfectly timed to coincide
with tender moments. The sound is slightly tubby and the orchestra
somewhat recessed but none of this is likely to trouble the
seasoned listener who likes the atmosphere of live theatre and
wants to hear a classic account of what is now probably Mozart’s
most popular opera.
Colin Davis had already recorded a much-admired
studio version of “Così” in 1974; the
interpretation here is similarly grand in parts but also more
sprightly, especially in the recitative. Despite the august
presence in 1974 of such celebrated singers as Montserrat Caballé
and Janet Baker, there is no doubt that they sound rather stately
and mature compared with the youthful and vivacious sisters
of Kiri Te Kanawa and Agnes Baltsa. Stuart Burrows’ Fernando
represents a considerable advance over Nicolai Gedda, who was
not in good voice for the recording. I have no doubt at all
that “Britain’s favourite baritone”, Sir Thomas
Allen, is vocally infinitely more suave and alluring than the
gruff and rather clumsy Ganzarolli. The bass is the same in
both: a saturnine and knowing Richard Van Allan. He is rich
of tone, idiomatic and fluent in his delivery of text, even
if he is, on occasion, slightly clumsy in more delicate vocal
Direct comparison might also be made with a neglected recording
for which I have a great affection and which I reviewed
here earlier this year: the 1977 studio set conducted by Alain
Lombard, with features a youthful cast headed by Te Kanawa and
Frederica Von Stade. The men are less conventionally starry
but they make a fine team. Te Kanawa delivers a virtually identical
and superlative performance in both, although she is more animated
in this version, being, as you might expect, more attentive
to word-painting when performing live. Her creamy, flawless
voice - which blends beautifully with that of Baltsa - makes
light of the parodic coloratura in “Come scoglio”,
nailing the runs and trills with consummate ease and sailing
from note to note neatly on the vibrato. It is another glorious
account to be savoured by her legion fans.
Baltsa is scarcely less accomplished: this is an impulsive,
impassioned, spitfire of a Dorabella; her vibrancy of voice
occasionally results in a little passing sharpness but it is
a winning impersonation, as chuckles from the audience confirm.
Daniella Mazzucato is a tad shallow and over-bright of voice
as Despina. That said, her background in operetta makes for
an accomplished comedienne, pert and characterful, if neither
as funny as Stratas in the Lombard nor as vocally alluring as
Hanny Steffek in the famous 1962 Böhm recording. Clearly
the audience enjoys her mugging and stage-business.
Despite the slightly odd, occluded nature of his vocal production
- a certain almost Russian, liquid plumminess which I nonetheless
like - Stuart Burrows reminds us what an elegant tenor he possessed.
He gives us plangent, melting accounts of his arias to put most
other interpreters in the shade.
Allen as Guglielmo is in fine, velvet voice, capable of oscillating
between oleaginous charm when he is playing the seducer and
gritted-teeth venom when betrayed.
Davis once more proves his Mozartian credentials: I love the
way he injects pace into the “E voi ridete” exchange
between the three plotters but can relax for the most famous
number, “Soave sia il vento”, which at a leisurely
4:14 is permitted to hover, suspended in the air, producing
a timeless moment of beauty just as it should. The orchestra
is very fine - especially the euphonious woodwind and horns.
The set is in an attractive clam-shell box, the 3 discs in cardboard
sleeves. No libretto is provided except via a link on the Opus
Arte website. This does not bother me but I can understand how
it irritates others.
This is, in short, an attractive set, not in the very best sound
but nonetheless a really satisfying souvenir of a great night
at the opera and perhaps also a version to live with if you
follow the artists in question.