MOZART: Cosi fan tutte (complete opera) – Simone Kermes (Fiordiligi)/ Malena Ernman (Dorabella)/ Christopher Maltman (Guglielmo)/ Kenneth Tarver (Ferrando)/ Anna Kasyan (Despina)/ Konstantin Wolff (Don Alfonso)/ MusicAeterna/ Teodor Currentzis – Sony Classical 88843095832 (3 CDs), 3+ hours ****:
I am not quite sure yet if 41-year-old Teodor Currentzis will become his own worst enemy or not; though this recording, the second of the Da Ponte operas to be released (Figaro already, Giovanni to follow next year) does contain some refreshingly alive moments, meaning artists who are actually enjoying every moment of the production, and not just performing it, the extensive notes by the conductor, sort of an in-your-face manifesto, are somewhat ridiculous and silly—almost stupid in spots. He says “I made this recording because I wanted to show what can be achieved if you avoid the factory approach of the classical music mainstream.” And he then goes on to take stabs at the “Walter Legge slickness” found in mainstream professional recordings, apparently not realizing that many people far more experienced in the history and art of recording than he find many of those productions to be without peer and legendary. I applaud his enthusiasm and energy, but must he set up straw men to knock over in order to justify his reasons for recording? Can his own approach to this music stand up on its own without having to denigrate others? It all seems a little immature and childlike to me.
Of course, being a “bad boy” in the classical music world often means taking such measures to get attention, and Sony is backing him up. But I sincerely doubt that Mozart’s reason for composing Cosi was “to save the world from the cataclysm of the moral ideas and theories of his time.” Seriously? And I also doubt the theories of sexuality and lust occurring in youth rendering them “innocent”—what world are you living in Mr. Currentzis? But enough—in spending so much time on this I am just falling into the spin the conductor wishes me to talk about, because ultimately, as always, and as I always maintain, the recording is only about the performances at hand, and their quality or lack thereof.
It’s not a performance for the ages, only for the age, meaning this one. Though he does not project any particular ideas about period performance, the hyperactive orchestra of MusicAeterna splashes us with waves of perioditis, and not all of it pleasant. Accents are short, chopped, and loud, while the (rather large) period band certainly displays characteristics of what these sorts of ensembles used to sound like in the bad old days.
Nonetheless, things are in tune and for the most part in unanimity as well, while the chorus sounds good in their rather restricted roles. But an overture less than four minutes should give you an idea of the type of reading coming up, but even here expectations are challenged when several arias are taken at a pace which really stretches the skills of the singers.
Specifically it is the guys who are the standouts here, but the ladies, especially Simone Kermes (though an acquired taste for many) and Anna Kasyan present colorful and quite characterful portrayals. Indeed one of the problems of any Cosi is keeping the ladies separate in character and vocal distinction. This one, more than most, seems to succeed, and that is indeed refreshing. Nor is this a particularly mannered reading, even though Currentzis’s ramblings might lead you to expect such; it is well-thought out and consistent in its own universe, with superb playing and very fine engineering. I do hope that one day the conductor, looking back on some of his hyperbole and realizing that he does not need to engage in rhetorical promiscuity, settles down and makes Mozart just who he is, and begins to understand the this superb comedy of manners and morals needs no further justification. In fact, he might learn one day that Solti, the legendary Karajan, and even the wonderful English version by Fritz Stiedry at the Met (also on Sony, and containing all of the humor that Currentzis misses) each contains valuable and honest takes on this music that Currentzis compliments, but does not supplant.
In the meanwhile, this is a worthy entry in the Cosi sweepstakes, but not an only recording; this conductor remains one to watch closely as he has obvious talent. Let’s hope it doesn’t get buried in his own bosh.