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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2009

For some reason I’ve seen more live and recorded productions of Così fan tutte than any other opera I know. It is just one of those inexplicable circumstances of life. I only bring it up to point out that this is the best of the group that I’ve yet observed. It is one of the finest I’ve heard, as well.

A good part of its success must be laid at the doorstep of composer, musicologist, administrator, and (in this case) director, Roberto de Simone. He has chosen to present a Così notable for its attention to period. Despina complains in the libretto of the time she’s spent making chocolate for her mistresses, for example, but only in this production have I ever seen her depicted using an accurate copy of an 18th-century porcelain chocolate churn. Antiquarian value, only? Not when you consider that deeds are matched to words. Considering the number of productions lately where actions specifically contradict the libretto, Simone deserves some credit. Sometimes he goes further, creating images that provide character insights. When we first view Fiordiligi and Dorabella, they’re admiring clay busts they’ve created of their lovers; and as the former moves her lover’s image around, we note that only the half of the face turned towards us was actually finished. The same is true, we discover, of the one Dorabella is making. The rest is unmolded, unknown—to us, and to them.

Then there are the little touches of character that provide an almost Lubitsch-like feeling of intimacy to the comedy. In just one scene, Don Alfonso (played by Corbelli, a reliable and fine actor) raises his eyebrows and shakes his head when he passes quickly over the words “women of good judgment;” the two young ladies display an unintentionally comic choreography in the way they identically gesture offstage when the Albanians arrive; the young men toss small rugs on the ground before kneeling to explain to the women why their home has been invaded; and Fiordiligi appropriates a bamboo staff and scarf to strike poses while singing “Come scoglio.” All of this is handled with a refinement that precludes the shtick grandstanding more typically seen in this opera.

Simone also blocks sensibly, and poses his groups wisely. The sets by Mauro Carosi, with their elaborate use of period landscapes for artistic backdrops, are as artistic as they are functional. Odette Nicoletti’s costumes again revel in detail, from the uniforms of the officers to the elaborate particulars of the Albanian outfits. (In this production we actually see the chorus, paid off nicely by Don Alfonso, don “Albanian” dress, too, as the new beaus arrive. So do the ladies, later, as they appear for a traditional Albanian wedding.) Brian Large’s camerawork is generally excellent—never more so than in the overture, when he actually concentrates on sections and individual instruments, as they become the musical focus.

The performances are of a similar caliber. I’ve admired Corbelli for a long time, but found him lacking in coloratura when required in the past. Here, the bit that he has in act I is dashed off with panache. Bacelli is an effective Despina, less waspish than usual, though I wish she hadn’t donned the all-too-standard nasal voice for her disguises. No Guglielmo I have seen has wooed with as much delicacy as Skovhus during “Il core vi dono,” nor been responded to with such a mixture of nerves and rising passion as Kirchschlager’s Dorabella. Frittoli manages both the vocal and emotional range of “Per pieta” with authority. Much the same can be claimed for Schade in the seldom-heard “Tradito, schernito,” while “Un’ aura amorosa” is as sweet and pure as it gets (and it gets plenty of applause too). Muti has clearly mellowed in his approach to this opera since the days when he was known for his fast and somewhat inflexible tempos. “Soave sia il vento” proceeds moderately, with nice balance, and actually slows quite a bit after Don Alfonso’s brief solo towards the end. Much the same can be said of the sextet just before act II concludes; and the slow, perfectly blended mix of voices lends an air of forgiveness and benediction (as between the Countess and Count Almaviva) to the final pages.

Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, with a 16:9 aspect ratio for the visuals. Sound options include PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1. Imaging is precise, and coloring both rich and subtle throughout. A short essay is provided, along with a listing of cuts and timings.

Highly recommended to anybody who loves this opera.

Robert Baxter
Opera News, January 2009

Così Fan Tutte has anchored Riccardo Muti's career in Salzburg, Milan and Vienna. This DVD catches the maestro in a 1996 revival of Mozart's opera at the Theater an der Wien. Muti takes charge from the opening measures of the overture, summoning full-bodied tone and eager playing from the Vienna Philharmonic in a lithe but muscular musical performance. A fresh-voiced, spirited quartet of young singers—Barbara Frittoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus and Michael Schade—adds to the impact. This Così swirls and bubbles with vital energy.

Muti's conducting has acquired a greater palette of colors and a deeper expressive range since he conducted Mozart's opera buffa at the Salzburg Festival in 1982. The maestro still propels the recitatives at a lively pace, but now he points up the dark drama coursing through the arias and ensembles. That approach is reflected in Roberto de Simone's staging, Mauro Carosi's Romantic set designs and Odette Nicoletti's Empire-style costumes.

De Simone's production unfolds on oval turntables and curving panels that revolve to suggest the rapid sequence of scenes. Inspired by the landscape paintings of Neapolitan court painter Jacob Philippe Hackert, Carosi's painted backdrops and wall pieces capture stunning vistas of the Mediterranean Sea and the lush southern Italian landscape. Nicoletti adds humorous accents to the costumes—jangling earrings and fussy hair-ribbons for the women and exaggerated designs for the disguised men.

De Simone's staging reflects the broad humor of Nicoletti's concept. He tends to play up the comedy in Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto. At times, the director coarsens the action. There's a lot of mugging and grimacing in the Act I finale. Sometimes the gestures become too broad.

Muti, on the other hand, strikes just the right balance between sentiment and humor in his conducting. He relishes every note of the recitatives—the Italian words flip eagerly off the tongues of his singers—and crafts expressive accompaniments. This Così has a musical sparkle that sets it apart. The outstanding cast helps.

The four lovers were all on the brink of world careers when this performance was taped. Their voices are fresh and fit; their acting is spontaneous and unaffected. Frittoli's darkish soprano blends lovingly with Kirchschlager's sunny mezzo-soprano. Frittoli commands the wide leaps in “Come scoglio” as easily as she fashions a smooth legato in “Per pietà”. Kirchschlager deliciously underlines Dorabella's flighty nature. Schade and Skovhus make an attractive duo. Their handsome, keenly focused voices flash with drama in their recitative exchanges and add character to their solo scenes.

Monica Bacelli sneers and snarls in Despina's first appearance. Her angry portrayal gains in charm and depth as the performance progresses, although she cannot overcome the wildly exaggerated costumes Despina is forced to wear in the finales. Alessandro Corbelli tosses off the recitatives with easy grace, but his Alfonso looks—and, alas, sounds—rather old and doddering. He is the odd man out in a splendidly vital Così.

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3:46:16 AM, 6 May 2015
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