Mozart: Cosi fan tutte

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Cosi fan tutte
PERFORMER: Zurich Opera/Harnoncourt; dir.Jurgen Film/Brian Large
CATALOGUE NO: 100012 (2 discs)
There may well come a time when merely listening to a CD of an opera will he a thing of the past. With DVD rapidly eclipsing VHS video, sound quality is no longer a problem and the visual element adds a whole new level of dramatic involvement; in short, a hi-fi set-up can become transformed into a ‘home opera house’. But it is all the more important to find performances that bear being played more than once, and where one can find some engaging and striking pseudo-theatrical experiences.

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On the basis of the latest crop of issues, the more directorially adventurous stagings prove simply more watchable and engaging on the small screen. For example, I cannot imagine returning willingly to the fossilised stagings revealed in DCs Metropolitan Opera telecasts from a decade ago, where various of the ‘Three Tenors heads starry casts, where the audience applauds the dreary if monumental sets at each curtain-up and where the productions present rather than interpret the dramas. Only the MAGIC FLUTE, with David Hockney enlarging his Glyndebonrne designs to Met proportions, survives the visual medium.

A top-flight cast put to better use -Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson and Karita Mattila – features in Luc Bondy’s acclaimed staging of DON CARLOS from the Chatelet in Paris, a performance colourfully and dramatically led by Antonio Pappano. Also from the Chatelet comes a pair of GLUCK operas, that finds director Robert Wilson in his clement: his signature style — visually striking stage pictures, choreographed movement, luminous lighting — seems made for the composer’s Greek-like dramatic shapes. John Eliot Gardiner conducts both works, using his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique for the grander Berlioz version of Orpbee, with Magdalena Kozena and Madeline Bender in the title roles of that opera and Anne Sofie von Otter at her sublimest as Alceste.

Front Zurich comes a COSI FAN TUTTE in which director Jurgen Finn takes the opera’s subtitle, ‘The School for Lovers’, literally, setting it in an academy run by Professor Alfonso. Although Cecilia Bartoli is as winning a performer as ever as Fiordiligi, there arc some synchronisation problems between sound and picture, while the surround audio balance puts too much of the orchestra behind the listening position – ideal if you’re used to experiencing your opera from the prompter’s box, 1 suppose. There are no such problems in the beautifully sung and staged EUGENE ONECIN from the Baden-Baden Festival, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff with Vladimir Glushchak and Orla Boylan heading the cast and with Rozhdcstvensky kicking up quite an emotional storm in the orchestra.

David Alden’s early-Nineties TANNHAUSER marked the arrival in Munich of Peter Jonas and his old FNO ‘Powerhouse’ team of directors. In the title role, Rene Kollo sounds stretched at this late stage in his career, though Waltraud Meier is unsurpassed as Venus, while the cameras catch the scale of the stage picture admirably. Gotz Friedrich’s

Berlin MEISTERSINCER doesn’t shy away from the nationalistic politics behind the drama, and his detailed direction of character is ably shown in Gosta Winbergh’s blessedly unforced Walther and Wolfgang Brendel’s wily Sachs. The most exciting among this latest batch of operatic releases, however, is Peter Konwitschny’s staging of DER FREISCHUTZ. In documenting a vital, admittedly quirky and sometimes alienating approach to the drama that can give one mote on each viewing, this is where the justification for video recording comes into its own. 1 he fascination lies in the imaginative detail: Samiel Jorg-Michael Koerbl) as a quick-change artist, one minute a pregnant barmaid in the tavern where Caspar (Albert Dohmen) lures Max (Jorma Silvasti), the next a James Bond-style villain with a pet mechanical owl. Most memorable of all is the portrayal of the Hermit (Simon Yang) as an audience member so caught up in the drama that he has to come on stage to set things aright. Ingo Metzmacher conducts a blazing account of Weber’s score, and it’s worth buying the DVD for that alone.

I’ve long had my doubts about the long-term attraction of filmed concerts: can they really command the same visual hold as opera, however high the musical returns? My qualms have been somewhat tempered by the arrival of a series from TDK of six of the Berlin Philharmonic’s popular annual midsummer open-air concerts from the WALDBUHNE. The sight and sound of the austere Berlin Phil letting its collective hair down with the likes of Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Claudio Abbado makes a refreshing change from all those solemn, self-important ‘Karajan Legacy for Home Video’ releases.

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The magnificent performances of BRUCKNER’s Eighth Symphony that Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic gave in St Florian Monastery in 1996 to mark the centenary of the composer’s death also provided DG with its audio-only release (reviewed in November), but as well as excellent sound the DVD has the benefit of showing the architecture that so inspired the composer’s sound-world. Music and place also mark out two other TDK releases, with the CHRISTMAS ORATORIO performance that launched John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach cantata cycle in Weimar at Christmas 1999 and the same composer’s BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS fizzingly played by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in the castle at Cothen where Bach performed them. ED