Böhm’s classic Così fan tutte

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Così fan tutte is a difficult opera for me these days. The music is sublime, but I find it hard to take the evident misogyny. Consequently I find the best way to listen to it is to ignore as much as possible the plot and listen instead to the emotions the plot provokes, and this is where Mozart’s genius lifts the opera above his subject matter, especially in a great performance such as this one.

Schwarzkopf and Ludwig are a wonderfully contrasted pair of sisters, the latter capturing Dorabella’s more flighty, open hearted nature to perfection. Schwarzkopf is superb as her more haughty, serious sister, imperious in Come scoglio, truly troubled and emotionally shattered in Per pieta, a performance both beautiful and heart-breaking.  Between them, she and Alfredo Kraus make their duet Fra gli’amplessi into a thing of quivering sighs and eroticism. In no other version does that moment of capitulation make quite the effect it does here. Hanny Steffek is just right as Depina, not too sparkily soubrettish, and enjoys herself enormously with Walter Berry’s genially scheming Don Alfonso.

The male lovers are also wonderfully cast, Kraus ardent and poised as the more romantic Ferrando and Taddei a mercurial and vibrant Guglielmo.

Böhm’s experience shines through in every bar and the Philharmonia play sublimely.

I’ve had this recording (originally on LP) in my collection now for almost 50 years now and, though I’ve acquired and heard others since, as a total performance, this one remains my first choice.

Wunderlich/Böhm Zauberflöte

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No doubt these days some might find Böhm’s approach somewhat too portentous, and there is no denying his seriousness from the first few bars of the overture, but I like it, whilst admitting that it’s not always how I would like to hear the opera.

His cast is stronger on the male side than the female, lead by Wunderlich’s peerless Tamino, a treasurable example of him in a complete opera. Not always as stylish as Simoneau, he brings an approproately heroic dimension to the character, with the added advantage of the sheer beauty of that voice. There really is none better on disc. Franz Crass’s sonorous Sarastro is another asset, as are the Armed Men of James King and Marti Talvela. Hotter is an authoratative Speaker, but his voice is beginning to show signs of age. Fischer-Dieskau may not be a natural for Papageno, and I think I’m right in saying it wasn’t one of his stage roles. Admittedly he misses some of the wide-eyed charm of the best interpreters of the role, but his singing qua singing gives a lot of pleasure and in Bei Männern he gives Evelyn Lear a lesson in pure legato singing.

Which brings me to the women. Lear can be shrill on high, and hardly ever phrases with distinction, her legato leaving something to be desired. No patch, certainly, on the likes of Janowitz, Popp, Margaret Price, Lemnitz, Te Kanawa or even Rosa Mannion, who sings the role on William Christie’s highly recommendable HIP version. Roberta Peters, on the other hand, is a lot better than I remembered, and she does at least sound dangerous, her coloratura glitteringly precise. Lisa Otto is a pert Papagena.

So, still a worthy Die Zauberflöte, and one I woud not want to be without, for Wunderlich’s Tamino at least.