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Così Fan Tutte
Persson, Brower, Erdmann; Villazón, Plachetka, Corbelli; Vocal Ensemble Rastatt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nézet-Séguin. Text and translation. Deutsche Grammophon 479 0641 (3)
Don Alfonso is wrong. When the two stalwart sisters of Così Fan Tutte succumb to their new suitors, he considers it proof of the inconstancy of women. He may well be speaking for Lorenzo da Ponte: if you were to read the libretto without knowing its musical setting, it would be reasonable to see Così as a clever but cardboard-thin farce — a cynical demonstration of Alfonso's central thesis. But Mozart's music tells a different story. It isn't female frailty that drives the action of his opera but the erotic impulse itself, overpowering all four of the lovers.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin's exhilarating interpretation brings the youthful passion in Così to the fore. In most readings, the burbling wind figures in the overture are foretokens of a jolly evening ahead; here they have an air of electric expectancy, as if in anticipation of amorous encounter. Mozart's "heartbeat" rhythms — such as the one that animates the "Giusto ciel" section of the Act II Fiordiligi–Ferrando duet — have an almost tactile immediacy. The virtuoso playing of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe allows Nézet-Séguin to take much of the opera at a fast pace; the piece hurtles forward with the urgency of young lovers in the throes of desire.
Like this conductor's DG Don Giovanni of last year, this recording was drawn from concert performances at the Baden-Baden Festival. In its alertness, the performance has a "live" feel to it, but the tightness of ensemble manifests the festival conditions of its preparation. The cast, too, is (mostly) of festival quality. Miah Persson is a distinguished Fiordiligi, her tone cool but radiant, her work marked by scrupulous musicality. Fiordiligi's line often sits on top of ensembles; here, the luster of Persson's voice informs the entire sonic image. At times I found myself wishing she would be more generous with portamento: she tends to let each gleaming note emerge as its own separate entity. But this is nonetheless singing of aristocratic poise, defining Fiordiligi as the moral center of Così — a circumstance that makes her ultimate acquiescence all the more affecting.
Rolando Villazón, as Ferrando, does not blend so felicitously with his colleagues. His voice (as recorded, at least) now exhibits a bleating quality when it's under pressure that is particularly detrimental to his ensemble work. In quieter passages, though, his artistry shines through, especially in a meticulously sculpted "Un'aura amorosa." (The recording takes the traditional cut of Ferrando's Act II "Ah, lo veggio.") In recitative, too, he is treasurable. In Act II, when he extols Dorabella's virtue — just before Gugliemo bursts his bubble — Villazón's voice takes on an aural smirk, making the moment simultaneously funny and heartbreaking.
Two excellent young singers, neither previously known to me, form the other pair of lovers. Adam Plachetka's bass-baritone is marked by its freshness, with just enough sinew at its core to give it substance. Other singers have injected more venom into Guglielmo's "Donne mie, la fate a tanti," but Plachetka's musically exact, bluster-free reading has its own very real virtues. Angela Brower's mezzo shades light — you could mistake her for a lyric soprano — but it is a lovely instrument, marked by a verdant vibrato. The libretto paints Dorabella as the easier mark of the two sisters — a circumstance that can sometimes lure singers into flouncy overplaying. But Brower refuses to condescend to the character; her graceful singing lets us know that Dorabella is cut from the same cloth as her less tractable sibling.
Mojca Erdmann's presence in a troupe so carefully assembled is a puzzle. She is a Despina from central casting — conventionally perky and thoroughly unfunny. Moreover, her hard, parched timbre makes for some unpleasant listening: the two arias and the act-finale masquerades are the least interesting stretches of the recording. But Alessandro Corbelli is an authoritative Alfonso; even though the veteran buffo's tone has contracted to a thread, his presentation of the musical line, borne on incisive articulation of the text, is irreproachable.
Record companies have issued dozens of Cosís over the years; their ranks have been joined by any number of videos. This recording does not supersede its distinguished predecessors — personally, I am in no hurry to junk the versions led by Karajan, Jochum, Klemperer and Colin Davis. But the sensual immediacy of this version strikes me as something new. Anyone who loves this operashould check out Nézet-Séguin's bracing interpretation.
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