About this Recording
8.111232-34 - MOZART: Cosi fan tutte (Schwarzkopf, Otto, Karajan) (1954)
English 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte
ossia La scuola degli amanti

Opera in two acts
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte

Fiordiligi - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Dorabella - Nan Merriman (mezzo-soprano)
Despina - Lisa Otto (soprano)
Ferrando - Léopold Simoneau (tenor)
Guglielmo - Rolando Panerai (baritone)
Don Alfonso - Sesto Bruscantini (baritone)

Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded 13 July 1954 in Kingsway Hall, London;
14-16 and 19-21 July and 6 November 1954 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London;
and 14, 17 and 19 July 1954 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London

First issued as Columbia 33CX 1262 through 1264

 

 

Così fan tutte was the last of the three operas on which Mozart collaborated with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838). Very little is known regarding the creation of the work other than that its commission is thought to have occurred following a successful revival of twelve performances of Le nozze di Figaro between August and September 1789. The composer and librettist worked on the new opera between September and December the same year with the première taking place on 26 January 1790 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, three days before Mozart's 34th birthday. Unfortunately the death of the Emperor Joseph II the following month interrupted the series of performances but a second run took place between June and August of that year.

Following Mozart's death in December 1791 the opera soon disappeared from the repertory. True, there was an English première in London in May 1811, but the work was not revived in its original form. The first American performance did not occur until March 1922. The reasons for the work's disappearance were numerous. The work was deemed frivolous and immoral, quite unworthy and wholly unrepresentative of Mozart's genius. Thus, attempts were made in the nineteenth century to 'improve' da Ponte's libretto and Mozart's score was 'arranged' by various nonentities. Public morality during the nineteenth century was blinkered, intolerant, humourless and straight-laced. Little wonder that that da Ponte's description of Così fan tute as a "school for lovers" and Mozart's "thus do all women" appalled the public. It also revealed the lack of awareness in the public perception that the story of a lover approaching a wife or lover in disguise to test her fidelity went back to mythical times. Happily, a more enlightened attitude over the past hundred years now accepts that Mozart and da Ponte's opera revealed the hidden psychological truth through Mozart's genius.

The characters in the opera are Fiordiligi, a lady from Ferrara, living in Naples, Dorabella, her sister, also living in Naples, and Despina, their chambermaid. On the male side are Gugliemo, an officer, in love with Fiordiligi, Ferrando, also an officer, in love with Dorabella, and Don Alfonso, an old philosopher, together with the chorus who portray soldiers, servants, sailors, townspeople and wedding guests. It is the cynical Don Alfonso who challenges the male lovers, suggesting that the respective sweethearts will fall for the advances of other men. The wager is accepted, and they lose, but everything turns out happily for all concerned by the very end.

Mozart was thoroughly familiar with the capabilities of the singers who sang in the première and wrote the various parts with their voices in mind. The composer had earlier written five concert arias for the two women and the tenor and baritone had sung in the first Vienna performance of Don Giovanni.

The year 1954 was a particularly busy one for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in the studio. She began with seven days in January on a mixed Lieder recital with Gerald Moore, with nine more on an unpublished selection from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch, also with Moore, made in the unusual venue of the Wigmore Hall in London during April, June, July and September. She also took part in complete recordings of Johann Strauss's Der Zigeunerbaron, Wiener Blut and Eine Nacht in Venedig, with Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos and highlights from Arabella, Verdi's Messa da Requiem, Leonore's "Abscheulicher" aria from Fidelio and the concert aria 'Ah! perfido', both by Beethoven, in addition to Così fan tutte. The appendix here consists of various other Mozart arias Schwarzkopf recorded in the summer of 1952 that eventually appeared on LP as a Mozart recital. She never sang the rôles of Ilia or Donna Anna on stage. The examples show the change in quality that occurred in Schwarzkopf's vocal colour in the early 1950s.

The first 'complete' recording of Così fan tutte was made in the summer of 1935 with members of the Glyndebourne Festival production of that year. The admirable performance conducted by Fritz Busch, is available on Naxos (8.110280-81). Two other attempts in early 1952 failed to do justice to the score, so with the impending two hundredth anniversary of Mozart's birth, the field was clear for a carefully prepared Italian-sung version.

The recording impresario and producer Walter Legge (1906-1979) put together such a recording to be made in July 1954. It was recorded in three different venues, the secco recitatives being undertaken in EMI's small and intimate No. 3 Studio at Abbey Road. At the time neither Schwarzkopf nor Rolando Panerai had yet sung their rôles on stage. The soprano many years later recalled her unbounded admiration for the contribution of the Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau. "It was incredible singing, of tonal beauty, of expression in everything, really of the utmost elegance and knowledge" (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Her career on record: Duckworth, 1995)

When the finished result was first released in Britain in September 1955, The Gramophone reviewer felt "the casting is ideal". He also commented that "Schwarzkopf is in splendid voice as the sentimental Fiordiligi, Merriman equally good as the practical Dorabella, and Otto is a good Despina and very amusing in her assumed voices". On the male side Bruscantini's Don Alfonso offered "a subtle and convincing characterisation, Simoneau surpasses himself in lovely tone and phrasing, and Panerai subdues his powerful voice to the needs of the occasion". The orchestral playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra under Karajan was deemed to be "of the finest quality" and the engineers "are to be congratulated on the admirable balance" between voices and orchestra. Fifty years later this recording continues to exemplify all the best qualities of Mozart singing at that time. Incidentally, the recording omits No. 7 (the Duettino "Al fato dan legge quegli occhi" with Ferrando and Guglielmo) and No. 24 (Ferrando's aria "Ah lo veggio quell'anima bella") and their preceding recitatives. Some other recitatives have also been shortened

The Austrian-born conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) studied first in Salzburg and then in Vienna under Franz Schalk. He made his début in Ulm in 1929 and remained there for five years, moving to Aachen between 1935 and 1937. A much-praised Berlin début conducting Tristan und Isolde led to his international career. Banned from conducting in public from 1945 to 1947, he made his first London appearance in 1948 and became a regular visitor for the next decade with further appearances with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Karajan was appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955 and continued until his death. He also appeared during the same period both in Vienna and at the Salzburg Festival in July and August in addition to the Salzburg Easter Festival that he inaugurated in 1967. His prestige and influence were enormous and he became the most significant conductor during the second half of the twentieth century. In addition Karajan also conducted at La Scala in Milan and made a number of visits to Japan. He left a large number of filmed recordings of his conducting. As an interpreter he is thought to have made more recordings than any other classical musician.

The rôle of Fiordiligi is taken by the German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915). She studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and later with the soprano Maria Ivogün, making her début as one of the Flowermaidens in Parsifal with the Städtische Oper, Berlin in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano she undertook rôles such as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La Bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera under Karl Böhm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance was with this company on their visit to London in 1947 when she sang Donna Elvira and Marzelline in Fidelio. She then joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company, where for five seasons she sang a variety of rôles, mostly in English. Alongside these appearances, Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964), La Scala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955-1964) and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in 1964. She was greatly admired in the rôles of the Marschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and Donna Elvira. She also had a distinguished parallel career as a Lieder singer in the concert hall. She was the wife of the impresario and recording producer Walter Legge, whom she married in 1953.

The American mezzo-soprano Nan (named as Katherine-Ann) Merriman was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 1920. She studied in Los Angeles with Alexia Bassian, later with Lotte Lehmann before making her début as La Cieca in Ponchielli's La Gioconda with Cincinatti Summer Opera in 1942. The following year she first appeared with the conductor Toscanini in concert, later taking part in broadcast performances of Otello, Falstaff, Rigoletto and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Her European début was as Dorabella at the 1953 Aix-en-Provence Festival, the year in which she appeared at the Edinburgh Festival as Baba the Turk in the British première of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. She also sang her Dorabella with Schwarzkopf at the Piccola Scala under Cantelli in January 1956. She appeared in Brussels, Amsterdam, the Vienna State Opera, the Paris Opéra and San Francisco. She retired in 1965.

The soprano Lisa Otto was born in Dresden in 1919. Educated at that city's Hochschule für Musik, she made her operatic début as Sophie in 1941 at the Landestheater in Beuthen. During the years 1945-1946 she sang with the Nuremberg Opera but returned to her native city from 1946 to 1951 where she was a member of the Dresden State Opera. In 1952 she joined the Berlin Städtische Oper. From 1953 she also sang in Salzburg, and made tours of the United States, South America, and Japan. She was made a Kammersängerin in 1963. Lisa Otto became best known for her rôles in Mozart's operas.

The Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau was born near Québec in May 1916. He studied with Emile Larroche in his native city (1939-41) and then Salvatore Issaurel in Montréal (1941-44). His début was as Hadji in Lakmé at the Variétés Lyriques, Montréal, in 1941. He won the Prix Archambault in 1944 and then moved to New York to work with Paul Althouse between 1945 and 1947. His European début was at the Paris Opéra-Comique in Mireille in 1949. This was followed by appearances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival the following year and the Glyndebourne Festival in 1951 as Idamante in Idomeneo. He then sang Tom Rakewell in the French première of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. His Italian début was at La Scala in Milan with his first London appearance with the visiting Vienna State Opera to Covent Garden in 1954. After singing Don Ottavio for his Metropolitan Opera début in New York in 1963, Simoneau retired from the stage the following year. His final concert performances were in 1970. He later taught in Montréal, San Francisco and Banff before settling in Victoria, Br itish Columbia, where he founded Canada Opera Piccola in 1986. He was a most elegant and stylish singer who was considered the finest Mozart tenor of his day. He married the soprano Pierrette Alarie.

The Italian baritone Rolando Panerai was born in Campi Bisenzio in October 1924. He studied in Florence and later Milan before winning first prize in a vocal competition in Spoleto in 1947. His début had taken place the previous year as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor in Florence. This was followed by Faraone in Rossini's Mosè in Naples. His first appearance at La Scala, Milan, was in 1952 as the High Priest in Samson et Dalila and he later sang at the Aix-en-Provence Festival (1953) and in Barcelona and Lisbon. Panerai appeared in the first stage performance of Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel in Venice in 1955. He later created the title rôle in the Italian première of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler in 1957. His Salzburg Festival début was as Ford in Falstaff in 1957 under Karajan. Panerai made his first American appearance as Rossini's Figaro at San Francisco, a rôle he repeated for his London début in 1960. With his vibrant voice and positive stage personality he was one of the most popular Italian baritones of the 1950s and 1960s and continued to appear regularly until the age of seventy.

The Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini was born in Porto Civitanova in December 1919. Originally he studied law but changed to singing, working with Luigi Ricci in Rome. He made his début in 1946 in his native town singing Colline in Puccini's La Bohème. His career progressed rapidly after become a prize-winner in a competition organised by Italian Radio in 1947. He first sang at La Scala, Milan, in 1949, the rôle being Don Geronimo in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto. It was regular appearances in operas by Rossini and Mozart at the Glyndebourne Festival during the 1950s that endeared him to British audiences with his wit, humour and highly engaging stage presence. He sang Malatesta in Don Pasquale at the 1953 Salzburg Festival. By the time of his American début in 1961 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago he had moved towards singing more Verdi dramatic parts such as Germont, Renato, Ford and Iago. He then appeared as Taddeo in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri at the Metropolitan in New York in 1983. Bruscantini had a repertory of over 130 rôles to which he applied his fine sense of theatre and excellent diction. He died in Rome in May 2003.

Malcolm Walker

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Synopsis

Act 1

Scene 1

After the Overture [CD 1 / Track 1] the first act opens in a coffeehouse in Naples, [1/2] where Ferrando and Guglielmo are in dispute with Don Alfonso. Ferrando claims that his Dorabella would never be untrue, a protest in which Guglielmo joins in defence of the honour of his Fiordiligi, while Don Alfonso maintains the contrary, which his experience of life has taught him. [1/3] They nearly come to blows but Don Alfonso calms the two young men, [1/4] and goes on to proclaim his own view, that the fidelity of women is as rare as the phoenix. The argument continues, [1/5] until Don Alfonso suggests a wager to test the constancy of the two sisters. [1/6] In the following Terzetto Ferrando promises to pay for a fine serenade, from his winnings, while Guglielmo will give a banquet.

Scene 2

[1/7] The second scene is set in the garden of the two sisters, leading down with a view of the Bay of Naples in the distance. The girls sing to the gentle murmur of the music, gazing at the miniatures they hold in their hands. [1/8] In livelier music they swear to be true, and then seem ironically ready for some frivolity. [1/9] Don Alfonso comes in, apparently with bad news, bidding them prepare themselves: [1/10] the young men have been called to the war. [1/11] A quintet follows, as Ferrando and Guglielmo come in, in evident despair, while the girls declare that death is preferable to parting. The young men, in a brief aside to Don Alfonso, think they are winning the bet, but he remains confident. The quintet ends with a declaration of the bitterness of parting, and after a brief declaration of love, there follows a short duet for the two lovers, claiming that love will help them. [1/12] A drum is heard and the approaching march of soldiers, [1/13] praising the glory of battle. [1/14] A boat sails to the landing-stage and to the tears of the sisters, the two young men embark. [1/15] Write to me every day, sings Fiordiligi, and twice a day to me, echoes Dorabella. [1/16] The sisters wave goodbye, [1/17] wishing their lovers a safe voyage, and with Don Alfonso speeding them on their way. [1/18] Left alone, Don Alfonso can vent his cynicism.

Scene 3

[1/19] The scene changes to a room in the house. Despina is preparing chocolate and complaining about the drudgery of her life, lightened by an illicit sip of the drink she is making. Fiordiligli and Dorabella enter in evident despair, expressed in a dramatic accompanied recitative. [1/20] Dorabella, in an aria, longs histrionically for death. [1/21] Despina, when the matter is explained to her, offers her own common sense answer, [1/22] that there are other men, echoing Don Alfonso's view of women. [1/23] They go out, and Don Alfonso comes in, declaring his intention of bribing Despina to further the plot he has devised. [1/24] Her agreement assured, he ushers in Ferrando and Guglielmo, disguised as Albanians. Despina does not recognise them but finds their foreign appearance grotesque, as Don Alfonso presents them to the fair little Despina. [1/25] He stands aside, as Fiordiligi and Dorabella enter and tell Despina to dismiss the unwanted visitors, who now protest their love. Don Alfonso and Despina are sure that the girls will give in, while the young men are equally certain of their constancy, and now Don Alfonso comes forward, as if newly arrived, and greets the two disguised lovers as old friends. [1/26] As they urge their love, Fiordiligi dramatically proclaims her steadfastness, as firm as a rock in her loyalty. [1/27] The girls try to leave but the lovers, supported by Don Alfonso, beg them to stay, [1/28] and Guglielmo, whose attentions are directed to Dorabella, protests his love in an aria, going on to advertise his own good points. [1/29] The girls withdraw and Don Alfonso asks the young men what they are laughing at, as the comedy is not yet over. [1/30] They remain certain that they have won their bet. [1/31] Ferrando, now confident, sings of his love for Dorabella. [1/32] Now Despina takes a hand in the plot, and assures Don Alfonso that she can bring about the desired result.

Scene 4

[2/1] The scene changes to the garden, where Fiordiligi and Dorabella still lament the departure of their lovers. [2/2] Ferrando and Guglielmo come in, apparently resolved to poison themselves for love; they drink and fall down prostrate on the grass. Despina is summoned to help, recommends a doctor, [2/3] and reappears shortly afterwards so disguised, offering the latest remedy with a large magnet to draw out the poison, a reference to the Mozarts' friend Anton Mesmer and his theories of animal magnetism. [2/4] The two men are revived [2/5] and beg a kiss, but are again rejected. Nevertheless the plotters see success in sight.

Act II

Scene 1

[2/6] The second act opens in a room in the house, where Despina reasons with her two mistresses [2/7] and expresses her philosophy, explaining that any girl of fifteen ought to know how to handle men. [2/8] Little by little the two girls decide that there is no harm in an innocent flirtation [2/9] and in a duet declare their preference, Dorabella claiming the dark one and Fiordiligi the fair-haired one.

Scene 2

[2/10] Don Alfonso calls them into the garden. [2/11] By the landing-stage there is a boat decked with flowers and the two lovers have arranged a serenade, played by a wind band, while Ferrando and Guglielmo ask the friendly breezes to convey their message of love. [2/12] Don Alfonso urges the reluctant young men on, taking Dorabella's hand as Despina takes Fiordiligi's, leading them forward. [2/13] The lovers are now left alone. [2/14] Fiordiligi and Ferrando walk off together, and Guglielino protests further his love for Dorabella. He replaces Ferrando's miniature that she wears with a locket of his own. As Guglielmo and Dorabella walk away, arm in arm, the other couple returns, Ferrando still pleading with Fiordiligi, and threatening suicide. [2/15] As he leaves, she expresses her changing feelings, [2/16] begging pardon of the absent Guglielmo. [2/17] She walks away, and Ferrando and Guglielmo re-appear. The former delights Guglielmo with news of Fiordiligi's apparent constancy, but is dismayed at what he learns of his Dorabella, who has evidently given away his portrait, which Guglielmo now shows him. [2/18] Guglielmo now expresses his doubts, [2/19] while Ferrando, returning, sings of his disillusionment, [2/20] betrayed, scorned. [2/21] Don Alfonso applauds his misery and tells the relatively complacent Guglielmo to wait a little longer.

Scene 3

[2/22] The next scene is set in a room with a number of doors, a looking-glass and a little table. Despina tells Dorabella that she has acted sensibly, when Fiordiligi bursts in and announces that she loves her new wooer, but will still resist the temptation. [2/23] Dorabella tells of the power of love, [2/24] but Fiordiligi still will not give way, and tells Despina to bring down the young men's uniforms and swords from upstairs, where they are stored, and to order horses so that she and her sister may join their old lovers at war. Guglielmo, overhearing all this, is full of admiration. [2/25] She tells of her hope to join Guglielmo, but is interrupted by Ferrando, who threatens to die of love, if she deserts him. [2/26] She gives in, and the two go out together, while Don Alfonso restrains Guglielmo with difficulty. [2/27] When Ferrando retums, Don Alfonso suggests that the best thing to do is to marry the girls that very evening. Women are fickle but they cannot help it; in fact Così fan tutte, they are all alike, a verdict heartily endorsed by the two young heroes. [2/28] Despina re-appears to say that the girls have agreed to the marriage.

Scene 4

[3/1] The scene is now a richly decorated room. There is an orchestra in attendance. There is a table set for four, with silver candlesticks, and four servants, richly dressed. Despina is giving orders for the candles to be lit, while Don Alfonso expresses his delight. [3/2] The chorus welcomes the couples, accompanied by the orchestra, as they come in and take their places at the table [3/3] and start to eat. [3/4] Don Alfonso ushers in the lawyer, Despina in disguise, with the marriage contracts which she intones through her nose. [3/5] At this moment the soldiers' chorus of the first act is heard off-stage and Don Alfonso announces the imminent return of the lovers from the war. The "Albanians" are hustled out, with Despina, [3/6] and the two men quickly return as themselves, [3/7] while Despina comes in again, without her lawyer's hat, explaining that her costume was intended for a masked ball. Don Alfonso allows the marriage contracts that the girls, but not the men, had signed, to fall to the floor. [3/8] Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to find the papers and reproach their faithless partners. [3/9] Don Alfonso then reveals the plot, as Ferrando and Guglielmo retire for a moment and return wearing something of their old disguise. The girls realise at last what has happened and seek forgiveness, which is readily granted, [3/10] and all ends happily.

Keith Anderson

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Producer's Note

The source for the transfer of Così fan tutte was a single set of British LP pressings. The final disc has been filled out with the complete Mozart Opera Arias album that Schwarzkopf recorded two years earlier, re-sequenced here in order by aria within each opera. This has been transferred from a French LP copy. Both recordings feature some distortion during loud passages, electronic clicks, thumps, etc. which are inherent to the original master tapes and are not a function of the LP pressings.

Mark Obert-Thorn


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