Così fan tutte – Opera buffa in two acts to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte [sung in an English translation by Marmaduke Browne adapted by John Cox]
Fiordiligi – Janice Watson
Dorabella – Diana Montague
Guglielmo – Christopher Maltman
Ferrando – Toby Spence
Despina – Lesley Garrett
Don Alfonso – Sir Thomas Allen
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded 3-6 & 8-11 January and 15, 17, 18 & 20 August 2007 in the Colosseum, Watford, UK
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: April 2008
CD No: CHANDOS
CHAN 3152 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 41 minutes
This Chandos recording of “Cosi fan tutte” fills an important niche, being the only modern recording in English; but it also holds its own with many of the best Italian-language versions, thanks to very high performance standards and Sir Charles Mackerras’s unrivalled wealth of Mozart experience.
Major selling-points are the ‘historically informed’ approach (as with his previous recordings of Mozart operas, Mackerras encourages the singers to ornament freely – which they do with stylish integrity), and the superb contribution of the period-instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Aside from one or two minor aberrations (such as the oboist’s gabbled attempts at the chirpy melody in the overture), the orchestra is alert and responsive, playing with an appropriate buoyancy that makes many modern-instrument versions seem heavy-handed, while retaining a satisfyingly full body (in contrast to the feeble-sounding Concerto Köln band in René Jacobs’s patchy Harmonia Mundi account).
The excellent cast of fine English singers has no weak links. Individual performances are assured, if not able to rival those of the best Italian-language versions; but collectively they brim with vibrancy and confidence, fully attuned to the many nuances of the score.
Janice Watson and Diana Montague are a sensitive pair of sisters, never over-indulgent or excessively languid, especially delightful in their well-blended duets; they are matched by their lovers Toby Spence and Christopher Maltman, equally commanding in their arrogance and frivolity as they are in their sincere moments of tender affection.
Thomas Allen, a veteran as the scheming Don Alfonso, oozes character; Lesley Garrett is rather more hammy, but still surprisingly convincing as the young maid Despina despite occasional vocal deficiencies.
Crucially, for such an enterprise, the text is conveyed with great clarity. Almost every word is clear, especially in the lively recitatives – stylishly accompanied by cello and fortepiano (the unusually pronounced ‘period’ rattle of the latter may be a touch too eccentric for some tastes, however).
The biggest drawback is the bathroom-like acoustic, far too boomy for such an intimate opera; but the sound is well-defined even so, and the performance strong enough to draw you in.
This is a well-paced, theatrical account of what is often described as Mozart’s most-perfect opera, one that brings out its delicious sense of fun (missing from some of the more po-faced older versions) as well as its great emotional range. Using a witty modern revision by John Cox of the Reverend Marmaduke E. Browne’s 1890 English translation, this “Cosi fan tutte” has a captivating immediacy that provides an enjoyable and often-illuminating alternative to versions in the original Italian. And, language aside, Mackerras’s expert direction ensures that this is now one of the top choices among period-instrument versions.