Cast of 'Cosi' doesn't do it justice

Classical Sounds

March 24, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC PTC

Mozart, "Cosi Fan Tutte," performed by Renee Fleming (Fiordiligi), Anne Sofie von Otter (Dorabella), Frank Lopardo (Ferrando), Guglielmo (Olaf Bar), Despina (Adelina Scarabelli), Don Alfonso (Michele Pertusi) and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Georg Solti conducting (London 444 174-2):

Of the great Mozart operas, "Cosi Fan Tutte" is the most difficult to record successfully. All of the composer's operas are ensemble works, but "Cosi" is a special case. We think of Fiordiligi and Dorabella as "the sisters," of Ferrando and Guglielmo as "the men," and of the four of them as "the lovers." Add to this that all of them must also have quite separate identities, that the cast must have formidable presences as Alfonso, who masterminds the plot, and as Despina, who helps engineer it. And keep in mind that "Cosi" needs a conductor who can make all these singers, individually and in ensemble (as well as an orchestra and chorus in a hazardous-as-walking-on-eggshells orchestral score), achieve something that is more than the sum of the parts for a drama as emotionally rich and demanding as the best Shakespeare. On the stage, where the eye is almost as important as the ear, one can get away with less; on records, where the ear is everything, one can't. That is why there are so few genuinely distinguished "Cosi" recordings. This doesn't make the list.

The best thing here is Solti's conducting. This conductor has never gotten the respect that he deserves as a Mozartean. His leadership is perhaps warmer and more caring than it was on his 1973 recording (though that was scarcely deficient) and it is equally direct and well-paced. What London-Decca has not given him this time is a cast to equal the one he had more than 20 years ago.

Not that this one is bad just not good enough. Fleming is a fine Fiordiligi. She's got a substantial voice and she has real insight into Fiordiligi's too conscientious and over-idealistic character. But while Von Otter sings Dorabella with sufficient polish, her voice and her characterization are too small in comparison to Fleming's to keep her from fading into the woodwork.

The same problem bedevils the men. As Guglielmo, Bar gives a stylish, manly performance. But in Lopardo, Bar has to sing against a Ferrando who can't muster the sort of lyricism other lightweight tenors have been able to supply. The rest of the cast a warm, flexible Alfonso in Pertusi and an appealing but unaffected Despina in Scarabelli is excellent.

Mozart, "Die Zauberflote," performed by Rosa Mannion (Pamina), Natalie Dessay (Queen of the Night), Hans Peter Blochwitz (Tamino), Anton Scharinger (Papageno), Reinhard Hagen (Sarastro), Willard White (Speaker), Steven Cole (Monostatos), Anna-Maria Panzarella (First Woman), Doris Lamprecht (Second Woman), Delphine Haidan (Third Woman), Linda Kitchen (Papagena) and Les Arts Fleurissants, William Christie conducting (Erato 0630-12705-2):

Here we have the reverse of the Solti "Cosi." Perhaps because of its origins in the popular music theater of Vienna Mozart did not write it for the opera patronized by the court "The Magic Flute" is an easier show to do than other major Mozart operas. Find a soprano with the chops for the Queen of the Night's arias, get a decent cast of singing actors, a conductor who can tell his you-know-what from his elbow and you're ready for business.

The adulation that surrounds William Christie and his early music ensemble, Les Arts Fleurissants, can make one's gorge rise. But one must admit that this is an excellent production. The conducting is lively, the orchestra is excellent and the young cast, with the possible exception of a somewhat dullish Tamino byimpressive but the ensemble is solid and all hands acquit themselves with conviction. This may not be a "Magic Flute" for the ages, but most listeners will find it suitably enchanting.

Hear the music

To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed here, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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