Record Guide: Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte

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Mozart’s opera buffa Così fan tutte was first premiered in 1790. The opera was considered frivolous and immoral in the 19th century, but after the Second World War, as society and our values became increasingly modernised, it became very popular and has been regularly performed and many recordings of the opera came out over the last 70 years.

Essential recordings

Daniel Barenboim’s 1989 recording on Erato with the Berlin Philharmonic has a lot of character, and Barenboim manages to mix the comic with the more profound. There is also a fine team of singers, including a young Cecilia Bartoli, more relaxed and natural here than later.

James Levine offers a slightly more muscular interpretation (Deutsche Grammophon 1989) than usual, although the Vienna Philharmonic contribute great elegance. The vocal themes complement each other, with Te Kanawa’s beautiful soprano standing out a little more.

Sir Colin Davis brings warmth and finesse to Cosi fan tutte in an almost perfect combination in his 1974 Philips recording with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Among the singers, Nicolai Gedda’s Ferrando and Montserrat Caballé’s Fiordiligi deserve special mention.

No one conducts Mozart’s operas as spiritually as Sir Charles Mackerras, and his 1994 Telarc recording brings out all the elegance, freshness and vitality of the music. Felicity Lott and Jerry Hadley’s interpretations are also of great beauty and sensitivity.

René Jacob’s 1999 HM France recording with Concerto Köln is a little too anonymous compared to the very best, although Veronique Gen’s Fiordiligi is memorable. Jacob’s orchestral playing, however, is to be commended, among the most refreshing on the disc.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s interpretation with the English Baroque Soloists on Archiv in 1993 is the best on period instruments, with much elegance and charm. It is also performed live, which adds to the lively approach. The vocal team is of good quality, with fine interplay.

Sir Georg Solti made two recordings of this opera for Decca. The second, at the end of his long life, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 1996, is by far the best – youthfully fresh, full of joie de vivre. The singers seem to enjoy Solti’s company, with Renée Fleming and Anne Sophie von Otter standing out in the two female roles.

Modern and radical

Teodor Currentzis’ 2014 version with Musica Eterna on Sony is the most radical on the record. It feels like hearing the music for the first time, with new phrasing and details. Not everything is convincing, however, with a young and inspired team of singers concentrating on the lyrical rather than the vocally dramatic.

Wild Card

Karajan’s 1955 EMI/Warner mono version is one of the gramophone classics. Karajan’s interpretation has an elegance and delicacy that seems almost unreal. The singers are simply ideal, and Leopold Simoneau’s Ferrando and Rolando Panerai’s Guglielmo are of unearthly beauty.

The Mozartean paradise

Karl Böhm’s 1963 studio recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI/Warner is our top recommendation. Böhm gives the music both lightness and dramatic power. The vocal performances are brilliant throughout, not least Christa Ludwig’s characterful Dorabella and Alfredo Kraus’s lovely Ferrando. We are truly in a Mozartean paradise here.

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