Così fan tutte review – lovers recoupled in impressive Mozart


Even the most inspired staging of Così fan tutte leaves a lot of disbelief to be suspended. In Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera, two soldiers are persuaded into a bet that the sisters they love will remain faithful, then lose said bet when they seduce each other’s partners in disguise, somehow unrecognised by the women until the grand reveal in the final scene. Audiences have gone along with the unlikelinesses and the fake moustaches for more than two centuries, because the profound truth this opera tells us about relationships is worth it. But what on earth was Mozart thinking? This recording – billed as “Mozart’s original thoughts re-created and recorded for the first time” – answers some questions, while posing a few more. It is taken from staged performances four years ago by the European Opera Centre, using an edition by Ian Woodfield based on close study of Mozart’s original manuscripts. The young cast don’t all yet have entirely “finished” voices but they work well together, with Nazan Fikret (Fiordiligi) and Alexander Sprague (Ferrando) standing out, and Laurent Pillot draws a lively performance from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. For Woodfield, the clues began with the fact that several times the pronouns in the manuscript had been filled in at a later date. Originally, it seems, Mozart intended the couples to start out as the opposite of what we’re used to, and to stay that way throughout. This makes sense, as in the standard version it’s only when the partners are swapped into the “wrong” couples that the musical depictions of each character are quite truthful. There’s also an extra aria for Guglielmo that’s arguably more in character, while the rant against female inconstancy that he usually gets to sing is instead given to bitter old schemer Don Alfonso. And yet Mozart must have realised at some point before the premiere that it was the friends’ betrayal of each other that gives the work its edge, and that the partners must be swapped. Ultimately, neither version is dramatically watertight: Così fan tutte stands as an example of perfect imperfection.

This week’s other classical pick

Mark Viner’s disc of Cécile Chaminade’s piano music is a follow-up to his revelatory disc of Alkan, last year. Few composers could throw off a salon piece as skilfully as Chaminade, but Viner also includes some études and tone poems of depth and Grieg-like soulfulness, all gorgeously played.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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