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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan Tutte: Dramma Giocoso in Two Acts, K588 (1790)
Fiordiligi – Malin Hartelius (soprano)
Dorabella – Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo)
Despina – Martina Janková (soprano)
Ferrando – Martin Mitterrutzner (tenor)
Guglielmo – Luca Pisaroni (baritone)
Don Alfonso – Gerald Finley (bass)
Vienna State Opera Chorus (chorus master: Ernst Raffelsberger)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. live Haus für Mozart, Salzburg, August 2013.
Director – Sven-Erik Bechtholf
Set designs – Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes – Marianne Glittenberg
Lighting – Jürgen Hofmann
Dramaturgy – Ronny Dietrich
Picture format: 1080p, 16:9
PCM stereo and 5.0 DTS.
Subtitles in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish
Region code: All regions
Also available on 2-DVD set 2072748   
EUROARTS 2072744 Blu-ray [200:00]

Robert Farr’s review of the DVD version of this recording appeared as I was finalising my thoughts, so I’ve recast my review to avoid too much repetition. As he says, this is a largely traditional production and that has been my main reason for enjoying it after seeing so many productions where the director’s ingenuity takes centre stage to the detriment of the music – Don Giovanni in a forest with a bus shelter at its edge, for example.

I also looked at a detailed review of the second night of this production in which Mark Berry believed that there was much to enjoy in Eschenbach’s Così.  That was very much my own feeling, too, despite some less than enthusiastic reviews elsewhere.  Of Mozart’s four operatic masterpieces, this ranks fourth for me.  That’s still an honourable place, since I tend to hold Mozart and Wagner as the supreme masters of the operatic genre, but I would have to choose Zauberflöte for my Desert Island, with Figaro if I were allowed a second string.   

I enjoy listening to the classic Böhm recording of Così with its cast of great singers at the height of their powers (EMI/Warner 9667852) but not as much as the other Mozart operas.  Certainly seeing this production went quite a way to convince me that I may have been unfair in my preferences but I would still choose Zauberflöte and the other Da Ponte operas ahead of Così.  Despite all that I had read about boos greeting the opening night and talk of Eschenbach, who replaced Franz Welser-Möst at fairly short notice, having jetted in from the Far East with too little rehearsal time, I enjoyed his comparatively straightforward musical direction at least as much as Mark Berry, and the Vienna Phil play for him like … the Vienna Phil.  

Silly production antics often mean that after one viewing DVD and blu-ray opera recordings end for me as audio-only experiences via the blu-ray players linked to my audio systems, but I shall be returning to this Così in both sound and vision.  There is some extra ‘business’, but it’s hardly ever superfluous or distracting. 

What seemed boring to those who thought there was too little ‘business’ came over as satisfying to me.  Perhaps the excitement of seeing Fiordiligi and Dorabella bathing during the overture got some reviewers’ hormones too excited and they looked in vain for similar stimulation thereafter.   So-called ‘tired routines’ – even if that is what you believe them to be – are certainly preferable to the excesses of some of the productions to which we have been subjected.

The two outstanding performances, vocally and theatrically, came from Martina Janková’s Despina and Gerald Finley’s Don Alfonso.  When Janková was on the stage all the attention was on her: she was clearly enjoying taking the part of someone enjoying herself, which encourages me to excuse something which both Mark Berry and Robert Farr thought excessive: having her get the sisters drunk at the start of Act II gives her a wonderful acting opportunity.  I also responded more positively to her singing than did RF.

With Finley we see from his facial expressions, probably better than the audience on the night did, the thoughts going on in his mind.  If he is a little too omni-present, that’s not a serious problem.

That doesn’t mean that the other major roles are as lacking as I have seen suggested.  Certainly none of the four lovers are sung by star names, but I didn’t find any of them seriously deficient.  As it happens, I recently reviewed a first-rate recording of Mozart opera arias from Elizabeth Watts, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Christian Baldini (Linn CKD460: Recording of the Month – review ) on which, inter alia, she sets the benchmark for the Act II aria Ei parte – per pietà.  Malin Hartelius doesn’t quite equal that but she comes close enough.

The sets, especially for Act I, are elaborate: I see that they made Robert Farr, like me, think of the resources of the New York Met.  The various shrubs in the conservatory in Act I make a wonderful hiding place for Don Alfonso, Ferrando and Guglielmo at various times, not all of it strictly in accordance with the book.  The dinner table serves the same function in Act II.  The swimming pool in which the sisters bathe at the opening is also employed by Despina and Don Alfonso to bathe their feet – again, not by the book, but a harmless piece of action.

One major piece of business which departs from the norm is having Don Alfonso accidentally (?) die of poison.  Once again, though it’s totally unnecessary, I didn’t think this too intrusive.  It does give Martina Janková one final chance to steal the show as she deftly pockets Alfonso’s winnings.  I’ve seen it suggested that Sven-Erik Bechtholf takes the work too seriously, forgetting that it’s a comedy, with the poisoning adduced in evidence, but no-one seems to take the slightest bit of notice of Alfonso keeling over and Despina picking his pocket is surely a final piece of comedy perfectly in keeping with the cynical-comic tone of Così.  

Several dealers are advertising the blu-ray for slightly less than the DVDs: it’s usually the other way round, often by quite a margin.  If you don’t yet own a blu-ray player, though they can be obtained for well under £100 and offer superior performance to DVDs in all departments, that’s an incentive to obtain one and buy that format.  The picture, viewed in 1080i, is sharp and clear and the sound, heard through a newly-acquired sound-base, very good.   Played through my audio system it sounds better still.

The booklet is rather minimalist – it doesn’t even offer a synopsis.  That apart, I enjoyed this recording: it may even replace the classic Böhm on some occasions.

Brian Wilson

Previous review (DVD): Robert Farr

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