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on 27 March 2005
When I saw the Harnoncourt version of Così fan tutte from the Zürich Opera House (also available on DVD) I thought that no production of this opera could be better than that. Well, this one is even better. It achieves a perfect balance between the comical and acid nuances of the action; all the way through it is pervaded by spirit and bittersweetness. Così fan tutte is an opera that incorporates the basic elements of a serious love story, but it gives a twist to every apparently heartfelt emotion. The professions of love from the two soldiers in disguise are so much sweet deception; the young men are just puppets controlled by their friend Don Alfonso who is trying deliberately to undermine the fidelity of their fiancés. The girls' outraged resistance and subsequent surrender show their feelings to be grounded in nothing in particular. Their maid Despina, the expert conwoman, is conned herself by the even more expert Don Alfonso; the lesson he teaches is that shallowness is human nature and that it is to be resigned to as such. The question is open whether Don Alfonso is the only sensible person in the drama, doing the others a favour by opening their eyes, or whether he is a human prince of darkness leading the others astray. All the roles are perfectly cast here and the music is a delight. There are no drawbacks whatsoever; only excellence from beginning to end.
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on 5 December 2003
Now, this is the way I like my 'Così', I thought several times while enjoying this DVD from Châtelet. Conductor cum director Gardiner's vision is NOT buffo, although very funny at times. The humour, or irony, of 'Così fan tutte' rests on a basis of pathos and unfulfilled expectations - and, yes, anger. Gardiner had never directed a show before, but either he was allowed to direct it himself ("unless I could work with directors like Strehler or Chéreau", as he said), or he would have nothing to do with this 'Così'. Luckily, Châtelet gave in, and their 'Così' is an unmitigated triumph. It becomes obvious that Da Ponte and Mozart were the contemporaries of Choderlos De Laclos whose 'Dangerous Liaisons' is remarkably akin to 'Così', when you approach it a certain way, the Gardiner way, as it were.
It is a production full of wonderful ideas, but not one too many. From the picnic and forwards this is a 'Così' to make you weep with the pathos and tragedy of it all. Dynamically, Gardiner and his period ensemble challenge you and a lot of listeners will need a little time getting acquainted with it.
Please buy it or rent it or borrow it. Mozart and Da Ponte won't get any better than this.
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on 13 August 2007
Outstanding for me was a young Amanda Roocroft's Fordiligi, particularly her 'come scoglio', the best performance as regards both acting - she looks pretty and is vivacious as the senior sister - and singing that I have heard. A young voice thrilling and amazingly full used to musical perfection throughout. She eclipses Cecilia Bartoli in the more recent Harnoncourt DVD. The classicly beautiful trio 'soave il vento' is however taken too fast, (though admittedly marked 'allegretto'). In video mode only Barenboim's 2002 DVD at Berlin Staatsoper and especially the sensitive Riccardo Muti on a 1987 VHS tape with La Scala with a superior cast overall - easily the best overall performance marred only by the poor recording medium - take it at the 'right' slower speed, in my view.

The remainder of the cast is good. Nicolai's Don Alfonso has some delicate touches. Rosa Mannion's Dorabella well offsets Roocroft's outstanding quality. The recording is a little toppy and only 2 star by today's standards. It is worth using the dts track if you have the equipment to do so. This DVD performance conducted caringly by John Eliot Gardiner has to be in the library of lovers of Cosi.
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Perfect cast, perfect orchestra and conducting, brisk action and well executed arias and ensembles, altogether makes this a rival to any of the famous recordings (such as Boehm or Klemperer) and the added bonus of excellent video and sound production make this a Cosi which will be very hard to beat.
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on 16 February 2007
This production is even better seen than just merely heard. Many of us have the original Archiv recording when it was released in the early 90s. It was praised to the heavens from all quarters. And there's no wondering why. The singers are all very good, with Trost possibly the best Ferrando we've heard for a while. Everything is translated beautifully to DVD.

The acting and direction are natural; no farce or slapstick (or if there was it's kept to a minimal), and there's comedy (such as Guglielmo's Albanian clone's daring kiss on Fiordiligi's hand and subsequently being slapped in the middle of 'Come Scoglio'; an action totally lost in intention in the sound recording when you could only hear the slap and the audience's laughter.) The best part of all for me is the singing. Just see how the singers throw forth wondrous tones with seemingly minimum effort. Come Scoglio poses no difficulties for Amanda Roocroft. The runs in here and everywhere else are evenly executed. Rosa Mannion is just as fine as the other sister. Her acting, for me, is even better than Roocroft. These are 2 singers who seem to have done nothing much after this recording. Rodney Gilfry is a better actor than Trost, with perfect comic timing. I just love how the singers can simply go down the stage and sing amongst the audience. The French theatre (in which this production was given) is just perfect for Mozart's intimate campy drama.

There are some opera DVDs which you would watch once or twice (or maybe thrice) and then it's left on shelves forever. But this Cosi won't be such a DVD. There are parts in the production which make you constantly want to return to it. I'm watching parts of this DVD nearly everyday ever since I gotten it. All thanks to Gardiner's expert direction, not just of the orchestra but also of the entire production. I'm just looking forward to his Flöte and Don Giovanni being made available on Amazon UK!!!
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I owned this production for several years and always enjoyed it not only for its musical values, but more particularly, for the interaction between the protagonists on stage. I have not shared the feelings of disappointment expressed by a couple of other reviewers but perhaps they have a point.

However, I have become increasingly aware of this production's deficiencies as a recording made ever more clear by each new high definition purchase. Finally I have replaced it with two rival Blu-ray productions, both of which give equal musical and dramatic pleasure and with considerably enhanced recording values.

The nearest in style is the excellent Glyndebourne production by Opus Arte. There is also a fine performance under Welser-Most on Arthaus. These two would be my preferred recommendations now, whatever the previous attractions of the Gardiner version listed here.

........................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

An excellent example of Opera Lover Quirkiness: FIVE 5-Star Reviews, and one each of 4,3,2,and 1-Star:
"Who can explain it, who can tell you why,
Fools will give reasons, Wise Men never try" (U.K. review)
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on 21 June 2008
Apparently it's very difficult to put on a good production of Cosi Fan Tutte. I have definitely seen one here. No flashy gimmicks or modernistic minimalism, just a really good traditional production with fine singing and sets.
The opera is split across two discs, one act on each, and here is my only gripe: the scene selection menu is pointless because, even though each act has several identifiable scenes, disc 1's menu offers you one choice (act 1) and disc 2's menu also one choice (act 2), so the scene selection menu is a bit pointless.
That's all I can find wrong with what is a good evening's comic opera entertainment.
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on 27 June 2010
I have become tired of this production after seeing it a few times. I think Gardiner's inexperience as a stage director becomes exposed on repeated viewings. There are moments of hiatus in the acting that become longer and longer each time you see them. The feeling that the cracks are growing deeper. The cast are too often left in mid air wondering what to do next. A proper director would have seen all this and done something about it. Also Amanda Roocroft has mannerisms which expose her lack of direction. There is a hand gesture she keeps using which a proper director would have pulled her up on in rehearsal. She also has a very limited set of expressions. All this matters for repeated watching. I also cannot decide if Eirean James really does keep laughing or whether it is part of the direction she has been given. The fact that I cannot tell whether it is real or not is a minus. Also she keeps wandering about the stage. Again a proper director would have noticed this. The two blokes carrying the drums are straight out of Benny Hill, by the way. I also agree with another review that the sets look very cheap.
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on 20 May 2014
Beautiful singing and staging. I have seen many productions of this opera and this is up there with the best. Funny, moving and of course the most exquisite music possible.
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on 22 March 2010
Judging by the other reviews, I wonder who was really listening. Did nobody notice the recording being marred by wretched singing, with the two sopranos barely getting notes right and grimacing to try to convey the difficulties of the music, and hardly passing muster? My seeing John Eliot Gardiner involved in such a failure makes me wonder, and the Châtelet production was appallingly ugly and cheap. I wasted my money and barely can get through the discs, though try I must.
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