Notes and Editorial Reviews
This groundbreaking performance seems as if it is happening in real time. At its best, and seemingly counter-intuitively, opera is at its most effective when we don’t notice that the characters are singing: such is the case here. If you know this opera, then the third of the men’s trios in scene 1 (“Una bella serenata”) will seem very fast; hearing it with fresh ears, Jacobs’ breakneck tempo seems utterly natural—these guys have been worked up into a fun/competitive frenzy and can’t wait to get started on what they think will be a grand adventure. Similarly, the little quintet before the men depart (“Di scrivermi…”) is so slow that you feel the melodrama; if they are going to play, they are going to
play thoroughly, making each word and situation count.
I could continue for pages, but will mention just one more example. The final toast, in which only Guglielmo sings a different, very bitter text, wishing the women were drinking poison, is also taken at a snail’s pace; his pain is overwhelming here. Recitatives are invariably quick and underpinned by a very audible pianoforte that ad libs and embellishes, commenting on the action; we are hearing a true conversational pace. This is either real life or real theater; there is nothing of the recording studio, multiple-take feeling about this set.
The four-minute overture actually tells us everything about what we are about to hear. The orchestra of course is made up of period instruments: there are (we discover from reading the booklet) 22 strings; the winds articulate their lines impeccably, even at Jacobs’ speed; and the final iteration of the “Co-si-fan-tu-tte” is like five splashes of cold water. Get it? Jacobs makes sure we do. Attacks are crisp and dynamics are strictly adhered to, and this continues throughout the opera. The players play like perfectly trained gymnasts. I’m stumped by the use of trumpets rather than the horns Mozart calls for in Fiordiligi’s “Come scoglio”, but the bright sound is welcome and the change does no harm. I might add that this is not a vibrato-free reading (like Östman’s on L’Oiseau-Lyre, a chilly performance that is wonderful in its own right)—Jacobs is too smart for that. He can keep it straight when needed, but given the whirl Cosi’s characters are in, he does not ask them to sing without vibrato.
The singers are young, lively, and absolutely in tune with Jacobs’ approach. Tops are Veronique Gens as Fiordiligi, with just the right hand-to-forehead posing backed up by a beautiful tone and the agility and range to make the music sound natural, and Bernarda Fink as Dorabella, whose sound is an ideal blend with Gens’. These are not cookie-cutter sisters: Dorabella is clearly the flightier and Fink sounds it without ever overdoing it. Graciela Oddone, a singer I’ve heard neither before nor since, makes a snippy Despina; her characterization is more accurate than her singing, which occasionally can’t quite locate the right note.
Baritone Marcel Boone (another singer who seems to have come and gone with this recording) is the Guglielmo. His tone is handsome and sexy and he only fails when enraged, late in the opera. The same may be said for Werner Güra’s Ferrando, which is smooth as silk and can manage the maniacal coloratura in the first finale at Jacobs’ see-if-you-keep-up pace; but he lets us down a bit in the should-be-ferocious “Tradito, schernito” in Act 2. Pietro Spagnoli is elegant and dangerously distant as Alfonso—just right.
The original release came with a fourth CD—a CD-ROM, actually—that contained the whole opera, tons of info about Mozart and “Cosi”, and information about the cast. I don’t believe it’s available anymore, but if you can find it, you’re in for a treat. The sound is top notch: it reminds me of the matte finish of Herreweghe’s first St Matthew Passion on the same label. It never blares, and you can hear everything. This is a knockout.
Works on This Recording
Così fan tutte, K 588 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano),
Bernarda Fink (Soprano),
Graciela Oddone (Soprano),
Marcel Boone (Baritone),
Werner Güra (Tenor),
Véronique Gens (Soprano),
Pietro Spagnoli (Baritone)
Cologne Chamber Choir
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 03/1998
Venue: German Radio, Cologne
Length: 183 Minutes 2 Secs.
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