Mozart's operas seem to bring out the best in their performers, and this reissue of Neville Marriner's "Cosi fan tutte" is a good example. The whole cycle wasn't a complete success, but there's little room for complaint here. We have major singers caught in good voice, and Marriner's conducting is alert and fresh. The young Karita Mattila makes for a rather dark-voiced Fiodiligi; she's a bit too close in timbre to von Otter's Dorabella. Yet Mattila has all the notes -- or as close as anyone has -- for the treacherous aria, 'Come scoglio.' Araiza isnt' a tenor I appreciate, but he's quite suitable here, forcing less than was his wont. Actually, once you get past a few tough spots, Cosi isn't that hard to sing, so Marriner's enjoyable account joins a number of others.
What, then, sets it apart? Cosi has proved to be a chameleon opera. It used to be played for geniality, charm, and high spirits. But da Ponte's libretto leaves lots of room for darker feelings: bitterness about love and betrayal,cynicism about the opposite sex, disillusionment in love despite a happy ending. Karl Bohm's remake of Cosi on DG is the most bitter and fierce on disc, quite a shift from his first one for EMI, which is all suaveness and gentility. A rather dodgy-sounding one from Guido Cantelli is a model of stylish charm. In the period mode, Rene Jacobs presents Cosi as restless, unsettled, and rushed -- the characters are bright but on the verge of panic. Moving from one notable version to another -- Solti, Mackerras, Levine -- each adds its own flavor.
In such company Marriner seems rather faceless. No one takes a definite dramatic stance. They just sing well and do a good-enough job with the characterization. It's too bad that Jose Van Dam, as Don Alfonso, couldn't spark the plot with either cynical wit or devilish machinations. Instead, van Dam is thick-voiced and, again, faceless. Within its limits, then, this is a successful Cosi that somehow doesn't move the argument ahead one way or another.