LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Così fan tutte
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens, Bernarda Fink, Werner Güra, Marcel Boone, Pietro Spagnoli, Graciela Oddone; Cologne Chamber Choir, Concerto Köln/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 951663-65
René Jacobs’s perspective on Così is that of a musician long immersed in early music, who views this dramma giocoso as a summation of Italianate opera since Monteverdi. But, as Jacobs himself admits, he is no purist; and this performance is highly idiosyncratic, with exaggerated gestures and accents, rhythmic flexibility and daring extremes of pacing. In the farewell quintet of Act I, for instance, the action is seemingly suspended in mid-air, like a film scene shot in slow motion; while the finale of the same Act is taken at an exhausting lick. The soloists are competent and well-matched, though with the exception of Graciela Oddone (a delightful Despina with attitude) not strongly characterised. Their great strengths, however, lie in the recitatives – dramatically and poetically sung to an elaborate continuo realisation (at times inspired, elsewhere distractingly busy). A bustling, vivacious performance which, despite its lack of breathing space, joyfully conveys the many layers of this work.
Karl Böhm’s 1955 recording has some beautifully intuitive music-making and a fine cast led by Lisa della Casa and Christa Ludwig. But there are numerous cuts, and inevitably the performance sounds dated stylistically, above all in the dry and stilted recitatives (a problem exacerbated by the Germanic accents of some of the singers). Yet the orchestral playing is remarkably clean – far more so than in Daniel Barenboim’s opulent version from 1990 which, with its starry line-up, lays emphasis very much on the voice beautiful. And although superbly conducted, Barenboim’s performance can sound Romantically overblown.