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Thus Do All Women

available at Amazon
Mozart, Così fan tutte, J. Watson, D. Montague, T. Spence, C. Maltman, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, C. Mackerras

(released on April 29, 2008)
Chandos 3152(3)
Every opera lover should own at least one recording of Mozart's Così fan tutte, an opera that may not rank all that high on the list of the composer's "important" operas but that remains one of the most enjoyable and beloved of audiences -- ranked as the 15th most often performed opera in North America. (My review of Wolf Trap Opera's new production will be published tomorrow). The best version to own remains the revelatory and authoritative recording made by René Jacobs in 2004. In the category of secondary performances of Così that are worth a listen, the great Mozart conductor Charles Mackerras returned to the opera for a second recording in 2007. It is unusual because he made it with the historically informed performance ensemble the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Also, the singers use not the Italian original but -- for Chandos's Opera in English series -- a clever, slightly twee English translation made by the Rev. Marmaduke E. Browne for an 1890 production by the students of the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford.

Mackerras has a generally fine cast, especially on the male side, with the ardent tenor of Toby Spence's Ferrando and the robust baritone of Christopher Maltman's Guglielmo balanced by the veteran weight of Thomas Allen's Don Alfonso. The women are led by the vivacious Lesley Garrett as a witty and slightly zany Despina, against whom Janice Watson and Diana Montague seem a little nondescript as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, respectively. The OAE sounds gorgeous and full of colors, especially in the woodwinds (so important in this orchestration), led with a sprightly hand by Mackerras. Other HIP touches include the use of a fortepiano to accompany the recitatives (although the critical edition indicates "cembalo" -- or harpsichord), as well as ornaments for the singers transcribed from an 18th-century source (now in the Fürstenberg Library in Donaueschingen).

Another argument against recommending this as a reference recording is that it does not include the complete score, making the usual cuts in most staged performances (Don Alfonso's Vorrei dir, e cor non ho, the Ferrando-Guglielmo duet Al fato dan legge, Ferrando's aria Ah lo veggio -- although the OAE certainly has the basset clarinet called for in that piece -- and some parts of the recitatives). Guglielmo also sings Non siate ritrosi, as is customary, instead of the more difficult Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo Mozart originally composed as the opera's fifteenth number, deciding to cut it before the premiere.


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