Saturday 9 March 2024

Saturday morning music - Soave sia il vento from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte

A sublime and heart-breaking trio for the rare combination of Soprano, Contralto and Bass-Baritone; from Mozart's opera to a rather cynical and heart-less libretto by Da Ponte: Cosi Fan Tutte - meaning "all women behave like that" (i.e. they are fickle and unfaithful)*. 

This is as good as it gets in opera. Things to notice (on a second listening) include the wonderful orchestral accompaniment on mostly strings with a "murmuring" violin figure throughout and plucked double basses; interjected by subtle woodwind chords. 

Mostly the two female voices harmonize and interweave, while the man's voice forms a kind of basso continuo (like the bass part in baroque music); except for a point near the end when the women hold long notes, and the man rhapsodizes underneath it. 

Austrian conductor Karl Bohm was one of the greatest Mozartians of the 20th century (The premier overall, I would say), and these singers were among the very best of their era in this repertoire. 

*Looking at Da Ponte's life, you can see why he would believe this about "all" women; and also perceive the self-justificatory reasons for the essentially subversive nature of his libretti. This is a flaw underling all the work he did with Mozart but especially Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutti (considerably less so in the Marriage of Figaro, albeit the plot is distinctly seedy!). Mozart's music can, and does, rise-above, transcend, this underlying hedonic nihilism; nonetheless the tawdry stories sometimes undercut the music. This is one reason why I generally prefer to listen to excerpts of Mozart's Da Ponte operas, rather than listening to the whole piece. By contrast, it is the earnest goodness of (most of) The Magic Flute libretto (by Schikaneder) that helps make it the greatest of all operas; and one that is profitably consumed-whole! 


Mia said...

Thank you for the background on the libretti. That explains so much of what I intuitively saw in these operas as a young child. It strikes me as the inverse perhaps of Stravinsky, that Mozart was so overflowing with beauty and love that he could not be bothered to even notice these corruptions, they were too trivial. Whereas Stravinsky's palpable wickedness is often covered (only ever partially) by benign visuals in choreography or even animation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mia - Completely agree about Stravinsky. I only liked his toxic work when I was myself in the most "depraved" frames of mind.

Also, failing to be able to sing one of Stravinsky's pieces of sacred music ("sacred" - ha ha) was the cause of my leaving a choir - the music was so dissonant that I did not know whether I was singing the correct note, or not! It made no difference either way.