Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte - Dramma giocoso in two acts KV588 (1790)
Fiordiligi - Margaret Marshall (soprano); Dorabella - Anne Murray (mezzo); Despina - Kathleen Battle (soprano); Ferrando - Francisco Araiza (tenor); Guglielmo - James Morris (bass-baritone); Don Alfonso - Sesto Bruscantini (baritone)
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Stage Director: Michael Hampe
Sets and Costumes: Mauro Pagano
TV/Video Director: Claus Viller
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, 1983
Sound format: PCM Stereo; Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Picture Format: 4:3
Region Code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 219 [2 DVDs: 188:00] 

Despite the success of Le Nozze de Figaro in Vienna in 1786 and Don Giovanni two years later, as concerts became less fashionable, and with fewer opportunities of fees from performing, Mozart was reduced to writing begging letters to fellow Freemasons. Matters looked up after the revival of Figaro at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1789 with a commission forthcoming from the Emperor himself for a new opera to be premiered there. Not unexpectedly after the successes of his previous two, Mozart again called on Da Ponte for the libretto of Così fan tutte. Itwas an original work by Da Ponte and was originally intended for Salieri who did not like it. Mozart’s opera was premiered at the Burgtheater on 26 January 1790. It had only had five performances when all entertainment was curtailed on the death of Emperor Joseph II; it was never heard again in Vienna in Mozart’s lifetime although it was soon given in Prague and several German cities. Così fan tutte never achieved the popularity of the two earlier collaborations between Da Ponte and Mozart although, since the middle of the twentieth century, it has not lacked for productions with audio recordings numerous and video recordings becoming so.
Despite the work’s increasing popularity in the second half of the last century, particularly at Salzburg, and recognition as a masterpiece equal to the other two Da Pontes, it is difficult to bring off. This is particularly so with the emergence, in the last twenty or so years, of avant-garde producers and Regietheater productions. In fact any opera-lover who has seen Così on stage in the last twenty years will barely recognise this production with its traditional costumes and sets. It has become the norm to stage it in a variety of locations varying from a cruise ship to a seaside pier and including haute-couture dresses for the ladies! In the 1970s and 1980s the Salzburg Festival, not unlike Glyndebourne, did traditional productions and in the former case applied a grand manner that other places outside La Scala and New York’s Metropolitan Opera could scarcely afford. Salzburg was still under the influence of Karajan who had significant foresight in respect of technical innovation. He guaranteed that many of his productions were translated into films whilst others were from the stage. The present production marked Muti’s Salzburg debut. He was then Musical Director at La Scala and the event was filmed for transmission on television in 1983. A classic production by Michael Hampe with sets by Mauro Pagano this played at Salzburg for seven consecutive summers and then again in 1991, the bicentenary of Mozart’s death. The quality of the television picture is fine in clarity and detail when seen in the original 4:3 format. However viewers tempted by their television set’s technical facility to stretch the picture to 16:9 to fill the screen will experience some blurring and loss of detail. The rather flat sound, by today’s highest standards, will not be affected.
The sets are period and quite superb. These ladies certainly live in affluent surroundings with a backdrop, as Da Ponte intended, of the Bay of Naples. Their beaux are not without resource either as Don Alfonso is able to summon a boat, uniformed soldiers and realistic Albanian costumes in pursuit of the wager he has with the men. While Muti was known at this time as a consummate conductor of Verdi, his Mozart was something of an unknown. Add the increasing propensity for the music of the period to be taken by period instrument bands and a major question is bound to arise about the musical accompaniment from the rostrum and the traditional instruments of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I would hardly put Muti’s interpretation alongside his distinguished predecessors in this opera at Salzburg such as Josef Krips or, particularly, Karl Böhm. However he does justice in tempi, articulation and phrasing to the great composer drawing quite superb playing from the orchestra.
As to the singers, none is less than good. As the arch manipulator, Don Alfonso, Sesto Bruscantini, one of the greatest character baritones of his generation, is a little past his prime. His tone had the odd dry patch and was lacking in some of the ideal fruitiness for which the role really calls. As the more ardent and emotional of the two male suitors, Ferrando, Francisco Araiza sings strongly, phrases well and creates a believable character. He has an edge to his voice that sometimes inhibits softer head tones. This is only a slight limitation and is no obstacle to his creating a realistic as well as ardent Ferrando as his singing of the aria Un aura amoroso (DVD 1 CH.34) illustrates. As his partner in the bet, Guglielmo, the American James Morris is both significantly taller as well as bigger-voiced; it was not that many years after this filming that he was Wotan at Bayreuth. The strength and size of his voice are greater than are often found in this role and while he creates a cogent character, he is not the most convincing Mozartean on record. As Fiordiligi, the more demure of the ladies, Margaret Marshall not only has the biggest sing but also the most demanding with the aria Come scoglio (DVD 1 CH.29) in act one and the long rondo, Per pieta, in act two (DVD 2 CH.13); these to go alongside the duets and ensembles. Her silvery soprano is a little thin at the very top and towards the end of the opera a slight tremor is evident. Nonetheless she creates a believable woman, tempted by her more flighty sister into the moral maze that is the cynical centre of this story of manipulation of human emotions. As Dorabella, Anne Murray is an outstanding actress and vocal interpreter, really playing the part of the more easily tempted sister whose behaviour reduces Ferrando to despair. Her lyric mezzo is flexible, true and musical with her brief Smanie implacabili (DVD 1 CH.23) and E amore un ladroncello (DVD 2 CH.20) being notable. In many ways the singing and acting prize goes to Kathleen Battle as the maid Despina whom Don Alfonso has to enrol, with the help of a little gold, in his enterprise. It is a role that is too easy to ham up. She, under the guidance of Michael Hampe, avoids any such temptation and with the help of disguise creates a realistic notary and moustachioed doctor. Her acting is matched by her clear flexible light soprano, which is a particular delight in the ensembles as well as her solos In uomini in soldati (DVD 1 CH.25) and Una donna a quindici anni (DVD 2 CH.2).
The ensembles and recitatives are well handled by Muti, along with the soloists. But the strengths of this performance which set it apart and mark it out from the many other varied interpretations available, are the sets, costumes and production. These are true to Da Ponte’s and Mozart’s creation. The booklet has a fully detailed Chapter summary for each of the two DVDs, complete with aria, recitative and ensemble titles and timings. There is also an informed article about Così fan tutte at Salzburg given in English. German and French.
Robert J Farr
This traditional production of Così fan tutte, along with its costumes and sets, realise the intention of Da Ponte’s story and Mozart’s music as few other more modern ones do.