, November 2010
This being a live performance from almost thirty years ago, a few allowances have to be made for a bit of background rumble and some—but not much—audience intrusion. There’s some laughter (not objectionable) and the occasional cough but as ever these contributions are perfectly timed to coincide with tender moments. The sound is slightly tubby and the orchestra somewhat recessed but none of this is likely to trouble the seasoned listener who likes the atmosphere of live theatre and wants to hear a classic account of what is now probably Mozart’s most popular opera.
Colin Davis had already recorded a much-admired studio version of “Così” in 1974; the interpretation here is similarly grand in parts but also more sprightly, especially in the recitative. Despite the august presence in 1974 of such celebrated singers as Montserrat Caballé and Janet Baker, there is no doubt that they sound rather stately and mature compared with the youthful and vivacious sisters of Kiri Te Kanawa and Agnes Baltsa. Stuart Burrows’ Fernando represents a considerable advance over Nicolai Gedda, who was not in good voice for the recording. I have no doubt at all that “Britain’s favourite baritone”, Sir Thomas Allen, is vocally infinitely more suave and alluring than the gruff and rather clumsy Ganzarolli. The bass is the same in both: a saturnine and knowing Richard Van Allan. He is rich of tone, idiomatic and fluent in his delivery of text, even if he is, on occasion, slightly clumsy in more delicate vocal manoeuvres.
Direct comparison might also be made with a neglected recording for which I have a great affection and which I reviewed here earlier this year: the 1977 studio set conducted by Alain Lombard, with features a youthful cast headed by Te Kanawa and Frederica Von Stade. The men are less conventionally starry but they make a fine team. Te Kanawa delivers a virtually identical and superlative performance in both, although she is more animated in this version, being, as you might expect, more attentive to word-painting when performing live. Her creamy, flawless voice—which blends beautifully with that of Baltsa—makes light of the parodic coloratura in “Come scoglio”, nailing the runs and trills with consummate ease and sailing from note to note neatly on the vibrato. It is another glorious account to be savoured by her legion fans.
Baltsa is scarcely less accomplished: this is an impulsive, impassioned, spitfire of a Dorabella; her vibrancy of voice occasionally results in a little passing sharpness but it is a winning impersonation, as chuckles from the audience confirm.
Daniella Mazzucato is a tad shallow and over-bright of voice as Despina. That said, her background in operetta makes for an accomplished comedienne, pert and characterful, if neither as funny as Stratas in the Lombard nor as vocally alluring as Hanny Steffek in the famous 1962 Böhm recording. Clearly the audience enjoys her mugging and stage-business.
Despite the slightly odd, occluded nature of his vocal production—a certain almost Russian, liquid plumminess which I nonetheless like—Stuart Burrows reminds us what an elegant tenor he possessed. He gives us plangent, melting accounts of his arias to put most other interpreters in the shade.
Allen as Guglielmo is in fine, velvet voice, capable of oscillating between oleaginous charm when he is playing the seducer and gritted-teeth venom when betrayed.
Davis once more proves his Mozartian credentials: I love the way he injects pace into the “E voi ridete” exchange between the three plotters but can relax for the most famous number, “Soave sia il vento”, which at a leisurely 4:14 is permitted to hover, suspended in the air, producing a timeless moment of beauty just as it should. The orchestra is very fine—especially the euphonious woodwind and horns.
The set is in an attractive clam-shell box, the 3 discs in cardboard sleeves. No libretto is provided except via a link on the Opus Arte website. This does not bother me but I can understand how it irritates others.
This is, in short, an attractive set, not in the very best sound but nonetheless a really satisfying souvenir of a great night at the opera and perhaps also a version to live with if you follow the artists in question.