I don't understand why Daniel Barenboim's three superlative recordings of the Mozart-Da Ponte masterpieces are so overlooked. I find them to be among the greatest performances of these most perfect operas, or of any opera recordings, for that matter. Barenboim presents a dramatic and humorous Cosi, with some of today's most splendid Mozarteans. Bartoli at this time had not yet started screeching, and Cuberli's creamy soprano is perfect for Fiordiligi. All the singers are marvelous, youthful and animated. Joan Rodgers's gorgeous Despina is always tasteful, avoiding the most obnoxious forms of parody and ugly singing commonly heard from most Despinas.
If orthodox, historically (and politically) correct Mozart is what you're looking for, move on to Gardiner or someone like him. Today's trendy HIP performances will be tomorrow's curiosities from this era of reactionary trends, I suspect. At the risk of offending the worshipful followers of HIP performances, I find HIP performances to be intellectually interesting, and they serve a valuable scholarly purpose. To me, they are somewhat similar in their devout mentality to the Bible's True Believers. Again, no offense intended to anyone. There's room for all opinions.
For the pure joy of a musical experience, I'll take modern technology, modern instruments, and the unbeatable Berlin Phil. I'd rather drive a new high performance Corvette than a model T, no matter how original and historically accurate that Ford may be.
The singing, tempi and musicianship of this Cosi surpasses every other one I've heard. De gustibus non disputatem. Barenboim has terrific taste in singers, when he can get them. He certainly assembled a magnificent crew here. The ensembles - and Cosi is an ensemble opera - are ideally performed. The finales have a thrilling climactic excitement and beauty, with Barenboim never forgetting that this was Mozart's most cynical and satirical opera. Voices blend perfectly, the acting and characterizations are spot on. Is my review hyperbolic? Yes. Is it exaggerated? I don't think so.
For an interesting and precious historic Cosi, check out Guild's 1951 Busch with Sena Jurinac's luminous Fiordiligi. While the sound is rather poor, consider it a museum piece that the gods of music (and sound engineer Richard Caniell) preserved for posterity.
Barenboim recorded the Mozart-Da Ponte operas twice. The second group of recordings on Erato are some of the finest Mozart opera performances ever captured by technology. Böhm's Cosi with Schwarzkopf and Ludwig come in second for me, but Böhm's tendency to plod along is surpassed by Barenboim's sexy, upbeat conducting. This is, after all, an opera about youth and sex, so why leave that out? If Barenboim's testosterone was surging during these recordings, all the better for us.