Mozart cosi PACO195

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Così fan tutte(1790)
Fiordiligi – Hjördis Schymberg (soprano)
Dorabella – Helga Görlin (soprano)
Despina – Isa Quensel (soprano)
Ferrando – Einar Andersson (tenor)
Guglielmo – Hugo Hasslo (baritone)
Alfonso – Sigurd Björling (bass-baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm/Fritz Busch
rec. live, 30 March 1940, Royal Swedish Opera
Produced in co-operation with the Max-Reger-Institut/BuschBrothersArchive, Karlsruhe, Germany
Full score available as download
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.

 The German conductor Fritz Busch (1890–1951) presided over the opera houses in Stuttgart (1918–1922) and Dresden (1922–1933) but as an ardent anti-Nazi he was dismissed from his post in Dresden when Hitler came to power and spent most of his career abroad, primarily in Buenos Aires and later in Copenhagen and Stockholm. He is most remembered for his work at Glyndebourne 1934 – 1939, which also resulted in complete recordings of the three Da Ponte operas. John Christie and Fritz Busch had ambitions to spread their activities by touring in Britain and elsewhere. Of this little came to realisation, but in 1940 the Stockholm Royal Opera revived the Glyndebourne production, even though the original sets couldn’t be transported to Sweden due to the war. This production stayed in the repertoire until 1951 with the cast largely unaltered. The six singers heard on this live recording can be regarded as the cream of what the Royal Opera could offer, and they can certainly stand comparison with what other houses at the time were able to present. It was a youngish cast, Helga Görlin (Dorabella) was the oldest and was to turn forty in the autumn. The rest were around 30 and at the height of their powers. Hjördis Schymberg (Fiordiligi) had made her debut some five years earlier and was to be the leading prima donna in Stockholm until her retirement in 1959: She also appeared internationally, singing at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan and regularly partnering Jussi Björling when he was guest in Stockholm (also documented on recordings). Isa Quensel was also a film actor and entertainer. Einar Andersson had made his debut as recently as 1938 and was to remain in the ensemble until 1963. Hugo Hasslo, soon to become the leading baritone in Stockholm for decades to come, actually made his debut with this production. He was a masterly Verdian and his conception of Rigoletto is preserved on a live recording, where he sings opposite Margareta Hallin and Nicolai Gedda (BISCD296). Sigurd Björling (no relation to Jussi) had an international career as Wagner singer and was Bayreuth’s first Wotan after the war. A recording of the third act of Die Walküre with Karajan was made by EMI at the time. It is available as download on Warner Classics3800242.

This recording was made on a set of acetate discs, but for this restoration Andrew Rose worked with tape transfers from the BuschBrothersArchive in the Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe. It goes without saying that the end result can’t be compared with studio productions of later dates, but what we hear is surprisingly good. The voices leap out of the speakers with stunning clarity and the orchestra is reproduced with great clarity. Apart from the overture and two arias, nothing else has been published before. As was common at the time, portions of the music were cut, the greatest loss being Ferrando’s Un aura amorosa – such a pity considering how well Einar Andersson sings in the rest of the opera. I knew of his existence of course, but I can’t remember hearing him before. Since the production obviously was very lively, listeners must be prepared for a large quantity of stage noises. Applause is also preserved, and I must say that the Stockholm audience in 1940 wasn’t as well-behaved as they generally are today.

Fritz Busch leads a taut performance, where recitatives follow attacca after the song numbers. When there is applause – or rather attempts to applaud – he is keen to press on. A lot of the performance is actually like a whirlwind, volatile and airy. Così fan tutte is in many ways the most light-footed of Mozart’s operas and Busch has certainly caught this. The ensemble is also full of life, and I have rarely heard so much natural laughter, so much joy, in a recorded performance. They are audibly enjoying themselves greatly. The overture sets the tone after the slow introduction, and the orchestra – in particular the woodwind – are set to the test in the main body of the overture. They are clearly in fine fettle.

That definitely also goes for the soloists, where not least Hjördis Schymberg as Fiordiligi plays her cards superbly. The great stumbling-block for any soprano is Come scoglio with its wide range and hefty leaps and, not to forget, some intricate coloratura, but she manages this with flying colours and readers who want to sample the recording before buying, are advised to dip into this aria (CD 1 tr. 14). But honestly, she appears to advantage wherever you dip in, whether in my favourite scene, the long duet with Ferrando in Act II Fra gli amplessi (CD 2 tr. 12) or any of the duets with her sister Dorabella. She is sung by Helga Görlin, leading lyric soprano for many years, who here for once takes on a mezzo role. The role may not be ideal for her, but she has no problems with the lower tessitura and the voices blend beautifully in their duets. The third soprano, Isa Quensel as Despina, had a solid training as actress but was also an eminent lyric soprano and a great comedienne, and all three qualities are useful for the role as chambermaid. She is sometimes bordering on slapstick when she distorts the voice as doctor, but her charm is irresistible and her voice crystal-clear. Try Una donna a quindici anni in the beginning of Act II, and I’m certain you will be hooked.

The men are in no way second best to the ladies. Einar Andersson surprises with a bright, beautiful lyric tenor that also has some heft and his full-throated singing in the second act is utterly attractive. The duet with Fiordiligi (CD 2 tr. 12) is proof enough. Hugo Hasslo uses his beautiful high baritone to marvellous effect as Guglielmo. Just listen to how he caresses the phrases when he tries to win Dorabella’s heart in the beginning of their duet in Act II: Il core vi dono, bell’idolo mio (I give this heart to you, my beautiful idol) (CD 2 tr. 5). How can a woman resist such a voice? And this is just an isolated example. The third male character, the cynical bachelor Alfonso, is supposed to be elderly: Ho I crini già grigi, ex cathedra parlo (My hair is already grey, so I speak with authority) he says at the very beginning of the opera. And authority there is en masse in his monumental voice, but it is also a youthful voice – far removed from gravelly over-aged basses that sometimes take this role – and his singing is glorious. Tutti accusan le donne (CD 2 tr. 14) towards the end of the opera is magnificent. Sigurd Björling was 33 at the time and he continued to be a leading member of the ensemble, besides his international career, until his official retirement in 1961, but returned regularly as guest for another dozen years. I heard him in 1971 or 1972 as Wotan in Die Walküre and Der Wanderer in Siegfried, and his voice was still grand but less pliable than on the present recording – but of course he was 64 at the time!

This recording of Così fan tutte is a glorious documentation of the high standards of the ensemble at the Royal Stockholm Opera more than 80 years ago, and we must be grateful to Andrew Rose for his indefatigable work to make acetates listenable for a wider audience.

Göran Forsling

Availability: Pristine Classical