Well it took me a while to get hold of a copy of the third of the Harnoncourt Mozart/da Ponte operas. It is, of course, Così fan tutte and like the previous two operas is semi-staged at the Theater an der Wien. Also like the previous two there’s about an hour documentary which in this case consists almost entirely of rehearsal footage. It’s well worth watching though there is some obvious overlap with the previous two and most of what I would say about it I already did in my review of Le nozze di Figaro which I recommend reading along with this one.
There are some points that are specific to Così though. Some of this is quite technical and related to the use of B clarinets versus A clarinets and to the idiosyncracies of valveless horns. But there’s also Harnoncourt’s view that in some ways Così is much cruder and more sexual than one would think from typical performance practice. He’s convinced, based on his knowledge of the slang of the period, that Guillelmo’s aria “Non siate ritrosi, occhietti vezzosi” is not about noses and moustaches but rather lavishly braided pubic hair and adjacent appendages. It does help explain why the girls are so shocked and disgusted. Like all Harnoncourt’s theories it makes sense in a way but one can take it or leave it.
So to the performance. You are going to hear Così like you have never heard it before. It’s very good but it incorporates all of Harnoncourt’s scholarship and may not be to the taste of those used to large, modern orchestras and a rather perfunctory way with recitatives. It’s certainly very well sung. The various pairings all work well. Mauro Peter, as Fernando, has a lovely lyrical tenor that contrasts nicely with Andrè Schuen’s more muscular baritone. Similarly Mari Eriksmoen’s flexible soprano as Fiordiligi, works well with Katija Dragojevic’s richer tones. Markus Werba and Elisabeth Kulman make a characterful and rather arch Don Alfonso and Despina. All the big numbers come off beautifully. The orchestra (Concentus Musicus Wien) is wonderfully idiomatic. Listening to the winds in “Per pietà, ben mio, perdona” is pure joy. The “staging” is very similar to the other operas and it does the job with just enough in the clever costuming and rather good acting to allow the imagination to fill in the gaps.
I watched this on DVD rather than Blu-ray and it really doesn’t suffer. AV quality is more than good enough. All the technical details are as in the previous two operas so I won’t repeat. In summary, I’m really glad I invested all the time to watch all three operas and the accompanying documentaries. I learned a lot. I don’t think these performances would make an ideal beginner’s introduction to these operas but I’m pretty sure that anyone who is familiar with them and reasonably open minded would get a great deal out of these disks which are wonderful memorial of a very fine musician.
Catalogue reference: Unitel DVD 804108