It's hard to follow up Scott Morrison's perceptive review of this new 'Cosi fan tutte' in English. My reaction on several fronts, however, isn't as enthusiastic. I agree that Thomas Allen is the very model of a smiling, knowing Don Alfonso, but I'd also add that Lesley Garrett's Despina is almost as good in recitatives, which makes the sly chicancry between them the wittiest thing about this performance. The four young lovers sing quite well, but they aren't funny or, for that matter, very alluring. Toby Spence has a hard edge to his tenor and effortful legato, which works against Mozart's melting melodic lines. The two women sound rather alike, but that's no matter. Fiordiligi's murderously difficult aria, 'Come scoglio (here translated as "Like a fortress"), is negotiated too carefully by Janice Watson, but she makes it through with conviction surpassing sheer vocal talent.
As for Mackerras, he takes the whimsical overture in a punchy fashion with sharp thwacks on the timpani at the climax -- not my favorite way with this bubbling, humane, relaxed, and civilized score, but he is dramatically effetive, and the period orchestra plays expertly (admittedly, I'd rather hear more vibrato, rubato, and expressivity). Mr. Morrison rates Mackerras as ann eminent Mozartean, but I'd lower him to a skillful professional, and that holds true here: I wish I were more moved. I generally go out of my way to avoid Mackerras anywehere but in Janacek operas, but even a non-fan like me must concede that he shapes Cosi from scene to scene very well.
As for the translation, the original, an 1890 version by the Rev. Marmaduke Browne (why aren't we naming baby boys like that anymore?), is decidedly prim. John Cox has added modern quips, some in bad taste (would even the cynical Da Ponte praise his two soldiers as 'well endowed'?), the overall result being rather hybrid. But the rhymed couplets manage not to sound like Gilbert and Sullivan too often -- always the trap when yoou try to English a verse libretto -- and there are genuine smiles when Allen and Garrett take center stage.
In all, I came up wth four stars, just like Mr. Morrison, and believe that any Mozart lover will have a good time with this bargain-priced set.