Currentzis Abuses Così–and Almost Gets Away With It

Review by: Robert Levine

Cosi

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

Determined and fearless, Teodor Currentzis, who holds court in the Siberian city of Perm (where the Russian/Perm government apparently has given him both funds and free rein, and reign) and runs what sounds like a gulag full of musicians (they rehearse and play up to 14 hours a day), is, in interviews and booklet notes that accompany his recordings, utterly sure of himself and the way he interprets music. Seemingly not lacking in ego, the 43-year-old Greek-born Russian citizen (citizenship having been bestowed upon him by Putin himself) tells us that the opera is about “revolution in the sphere of love”, but that none of the characters in Così is very smart and the libretto is “grotesque” and the story “silly”. So we are left with the sublime music, ja? Well, then, why doesn’t he just ask the singers to hum?

His orchestra, MusicaAeterna, is remarkable. A period group, its tuning is impeccable, but as usual with vibratoless playing, occasional passages sound a bit sharp. To me this is less bothersome than how closely the instruments are miked: you hear bows scratching, keys being pressed on wind instruments, and, at times, players breathing. But the accuracy of their playing is staggering, particularly during the very fast passages, which are shatteringly fast.

I’m perfectly happy with a 3:55 overture–the same, by the way, as Karajan’s 1954 recording–but the “Dammi il bacio” passage that ends the first act practically turns into a stunt, as in “Perm’s Got Talent”. Instruments and singers whiz by frantically, coloratura intact, and leave us breathless: it’s a circus act. The start of the second-act finale, “Fate presto”, is taken quite literally–it’s head-spinningly fast. If sections like “Soave sia il vento”, “Il core mi dono”, and the quartet before the finale in which Guglielmo expresses his rage were not taken so slowly as to draw attention to themselves, I might not find the whole so precious. But it is.

Currentzis adds embellishments galore and uses a continuo section that includes a lute, hurdy gurdy, and fortepianist, the latter clearly having been paid by the note: I can’t describe the liberties taken with the score during the “notary” scene–a veritable piano concerto goes by as Despina is singing exaggeratedly through her nose and embellishing her vocal line as if it were by Proch.

Some of the singing is magnificent. Kenneth Tarver is the finest Ferrando since Simoneau–perhaps better, singing with melting tone, ardor, long breath, and beautifully controlled dynamics. Christopher Maltman is as fine as Guglielmo, his rich baritone well-used. For some reason, Currentzis does not see Guglielmo as much of a character, and the role is underplayed. The sisters are differentiated, almost to a fault: Simone Kermes insists on whispering 80 percent of Fiordiligi’s lines into the microphone as if she’s afraid of getting caught, and Malena Errman is an aggressive Dorabella–there’s never an issue of knowing who’s who.

If, in fact, the sisters do change partners, it’s a mistake–the shy Fiordiligi winds up with the easily flammable Ferrando, and Dorabella will spend her life bullying Guglielmo. Anna Kasyan’s Despina is noisy and trashy and self-centered–what other maid would add so many notes to her interactions with her mistresses? Konstantin Wolff is a regular, very cynical Alfonso, and he sings well.

Music is “sharing your inner substance,” write Currentzis. Perhaps there’s so much theoretical and philosophical wisdom being transmitted that the listener gets the impression of a lecture rather than a form of musical and theatrical entertainment. It’s so microscopically managed and so mannered that it’s more a curiosity than a performance of a work that has been written down. I can’t see myself getting rid of this recording–like a butterfly pinned and framed, it’s interesting to examine, even if it does make you somewhat queasy.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Karajan (EMI), Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi)

  • Simone Kermes, Anna Kasyan (soprano); Malena Errman (mezzo-soprano); Kenneth Tarver (tenor); Christopher Maltman (baritone); Konstantin Wolff (bass-baritone)
  • MusicaAeterna, Teodor Currentzis


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