Although Mozart’s operas are considered to be central to the repertoire of every opera house, this does not seem to apply to their casts. When one reads the archives of the world’s most important theatres, one will find operas like Così fan tutte featuring singers like Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Francisco Araiza or Ferruccio Furlanetto long after they were international stars. For some reason, those who would like to hear the world’s best singers in roles like Fiordiligi or Ferrando will need to resort to recordings like Colin Davis’s to know the sensation of hearing Montserrat Caballé and Nicolai Gedda dueting in Fra gli amplessi.
As it is, the team gatered by the Bavarian State Opera for this evening’s performance of Così fan tutte is quite above average for today’s standards. For instance, the lovely Golda Schultz offers a lesson in Mozartian singing in her impeccable phrasing, very long breath, beautiful pronunciation of the Italian language and real commitment to the text and dramatic situations. Moreover, her lyric soprano is all velvety and soars in effortless high notes. In a theatre the size of which Mozart saw his operas staged, she would leave nothing to be desired. But this is a voice that does not count with reserves of projection when a high (or low) note REALLY has to pierce through an orchestra in to the auditorium. I do have the impression that the sceneries without backdrop and open on the side must make things even more difficult to these singers. Her Dorabella, Rachael Wilson has a fruity yet finely focused mezzo that blossoms comfortably in her high notes and still retains resonance in her bottom range. Now and then she would hit the wrong notes, but one would blame a natural ebullience that has compensations in terms of acting. The blend of these two singers’ voices was the speacial featuring of this performance. Never in my experience, I’ve heard two sings float their high pianissimi in moments like Soave sia il vento as beautifully and integratedly as they have done tonight. Tara Erraught too is a mezzo with no problem with high notes. She can lighten her tone and even sound convincingly soubrettish, but the tonal quality is too grainy and even matronly in her middle register. This – and the fact that her Italian is artificial – prevented her from offering a truly valid performance in the key role of Despina.
Mauro Peter is one of the rare tenors today who seem happy to follow all the basic rules of Mozartian phrasing, but he is also the kind of tenor whose high register seems to spin backwards rather than forward from the passaggio up. Although he handles high-lying phrases (and passagework) effortlessly, the sound has very little chest resonance and brightness. Michael Nagy did not seem to be in a very good day, but that did not prevent him from offering a stylish Guglielmo, easy on the ear. Christopher Maltman’s forceful Alfonso involved a great deal of parlando effects, but he is the kind of singer who can always count on his charisma.
After an extremely cautious overture, Ivor Bolton seemed keen on trying to compensate by rushing his singers in a way that suggested insufficient rehearsal time. The level of mismatch between singers (including those of the chorus) and the orchestra was almost alarming for an important opera house, not to mention the mistakes. In order to adjust to a light-voiced cast, the orchestra was kept under leash in a way that tampered with clarity and often went beyond to the realms of the inexpressive. This is one of my favorite operas, but after Per pietà, I caught myself checking my watch every now and then.
Dieter Dorn’s 1993 staging is far more satisfying than his take on Le Nozze di Figaro for the same theatre. The sets – that could look less wobbly – are pleasant to look at and, although the original personenregie has been replaced by an assemblage of stock gestures, the whole cast scored high in the acting department and won over the audience in its sincere engagement.