Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2005 and the recording is still available.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
… che cosa è amor
Andrea Rost (soprano), Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/Tamás Pál
rec. 2003, Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary
Warner Classics 2564 62030-2 [52]

Oi che sapete che cosa è amori.e. “You who know what love is”, Cherubino begins his second aria in Le nozze di Figaro. He poses the question to the Countess and Susanna, one married; the other about to be, who should know what love is. Yes, it is the women in Mozart’s mature operas who know something about love. It was a good idea to collect all the female characters in these two Da Ponte operas in a programme with the collective title … che cosa è amor …. Cherubino is of course the odd boy out, but being cast for a woman he fits into the proceedings. His two arias are the ones which are most obviously filled with pangs of love. His first aria, Non so più cosa non, cosa faccio, illustrates this very well. He sings, in Lindsay Craig’s translation: “I no longer know what I am or what I’m doing – now I’m burning, now I’m made of ice – every woman makes me change colour, every woman makes me tremble. At the very word ‘love’ or ‘beloved’ my heart leaps and pounds, and to speak of it fills me with a longing I can’t explain! I speak of love when I’m awake, I speak of it in my dreams …”

The task of impersonating these eight characters has gone to the Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost, who, since her debut at the Hungarian State Opera in 1989, has had a rapid and illustrious career. Within two years of her debut she landed a contract with the Vienna State Opera. In 1993 she sang Lucia di Lammermoor to great acclaim and the following year she made a triumphant debut at La Scala as Gilda in Rigoletto, singing against Alagna and Bruson with Riccardo Muti conducting; a performance that was also recorded by Sony. I had the good fortune to hear her Lucia in Vienna in 1995 and was enthralled by her delightful stage appearance and her magical singing. In 1997 Sony released her first solo album with arias by Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti. Not long after that came a complete Lucia, conducted by Charles Mackerras. In all these one could appreciate her well-schooled voice, her musical phrasing, her marvellous pianissimos and her elegant coloratura. However there was also a certain metallic hardness of tone and a little annoying vibrato under pressure plus a certain sameness about her interpretations: her Lucia and Gilda and Violetta seemed to be the same person.

Hearing her again after some years in this recently recorded recital, my memories of her were confirmed to a certain degree. She is very musical, she phrases well, she has a clean attack, she never sings under the note and the voice is very beautiful. On the other hand her vibrato has widened ever so little and the hardness of tone is still intermittently apparent. There are gains: she has acquired an added warmth, her pianissimos are even more delicious than before and, which is the most crucial point in this case, she manages to differentiate the characters. Since the arias in each of the operas are performed in the order they appear on stage, it is very instructive to make comparisons. The teenage anxiety of Cherubino is clearly contrasted with the noble sadness of The Countess and the youthful, clear-voiced liveliness of Susanna. Of course Mozart has already written all this into the music, but it is quite obvious when one goes from Susanna’s Venite, inginocchiatevi, when she is dressing up Cherubino as a girl, to the Countess’s E Susanna non vien!, that the Countess is an older, more mature woman, singing with soft, almost smoky tone. At the climax the voice is surprisingly full in a way Susanna’s could never be.

Then enter little Barbarina, searching for the lost pin, and it’s a quite different voice: thin, girlish, innocent. Marcellina, on the other hand, is often sung by elderly mezzos to show her age. Andrea Rost can’t quite hide that she is still young and beautiful, but she adopts a more meaty sound and the coloratura passages are not very elegant, more in line with the role. Susanna is, I suppose, her real-life role in this opera, but Susanna’s “Rose” aria, from the last act, shows the young bride-to-be in a pensive mood and so sounds closer to the Countess than she does in the “dress” scene.

Likewise, when we move over to Don Giovanni, she is nervously fluttery as Donna Elvira, while her Donna Anna has a certain amount of steel in her voice. Zerlina is innocent but also clever, as a peasant girl should be. A high-point on this disc is track 13, Donna Elvira’s In quali eccessi and the following aria Mi tradi. These are notable both for the singing per se and for the vivid characterisation. She has perfect breath control in the long phrases of Donna Anna’s concluding Non mi dir.

The accompaniments by the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra are discreet but stylish. The sound is good, as can be expected from the production team Ibolya Tóth and János Bohus. There is an interesting essay in the booklet about “Mozart’s Lovers”, dealing with Mozart’s relations with women, both in real life and through his characters. Moreover we get the sung texts in four languages, English, German, Hungarian and the original Italian. The playing time is not very generous; room could have been found for the three female characters from the third Da Ponte opera Così fan tutte, but that would have involved Dorabella who is a mezzo. I could have wished for more space between the separate numbers, though, and it would have been interesting to know how many of these roles Andrea Rost has actually sung on stage.

I have derived a lot of pleasure from this disc and am sure that many other opera lovers will like it too. There is a proviso and that is that one must be able to accept the limitations of her singing, if that’s what they are; call them characteristics instead.

Göran Forsling

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Le Nozze di Figaro Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio (Cherubino)
Porgi amor (La Contessa)
Voi che sapete (Cherubino)
Venite, inginocchiatevi (Susanna)
E Susanna non vien! … Dove sono (La Contessa)
L’ho perduta … me meschina (Barbarina)
Il capro e la capretta (Marcellina)
Giunse alfin il momento … Deh, vieni, non tardar (Susanna)
Don Giovanni Ah fuggi il traditor (Donna Elvira)
Or sai chi l’onore (Donna Anna)
Batti, batti, o bel Masetto (Zerlina)
Vedrai, carino (Zerlina)
In quali eccessi, o Numi … Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata (Donna Elvira)
Crudele? … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio (Donna Anna)