OP3225. COSÌ FAN TUTTE, Live Performance, 27 Jan., 1956, Piccolo Scala, w.Guido Cantelli, Cond.Piccolo Scala Ensemble; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nan Merriman, Graziella Sciutti, Luigi Alva, Rolando Panerai & Franco Calabrese. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1083, accompanied by Elaborate Booklet with photos & notes by Henry Fogel, B. H. Haggin & Richard Caniell. Transfers by Richard Caniell. - 019962528613
“This January 27, 1956 performance of COSI FAN TUTTE was broadcast from the stage of the Piccolo Scala Theater in Milan. The Piccolo Scala COSI is the only recorded document of the Guido Cantelli leading a complete operatic performance. By the time Cantelli led this COSI, performed in celebration of Mozart’s 200th birthday, the young Italian conductor had firmly established himself as one of the finest and most dynamic young artists of his generation. But on November 24, 1956, Cantelli died in a plane crash shortly after taking off from Paris’ Orly Airport. Cantelli (like Mozart at the time of his untimely death) was only 36 years old. Because Arturo Toscanini greatly admired and identified with Cantelli’s conducting, and did much to champion the young man’s career, these two great artists are often compared to each other. Suffice it to say that Guido Cantelli was a brilliant talent, a conductor with extraordinary and patrician musical sensibilities, coupled with the necessary technique and fierce will to achieve his desired results. [This] 1956 COSÌ has also previously been issued on several labels devoted to in-performance recordings.
Collectors have long prized the Cantelli Piccolo Scala COSI FAN TUTTE for the extraordinary quality of the performance, if not its recorded sound. Cantelli was a fiercely demanding perfectionist, and the quality of execution in this live performance is breathtaking. But despite the obvious amount of rehearsal invested, the performance always has a genuine feeling of spontaneity, as if the artists were discovering the miracles of Mozart’s creation for the very first time. In that sense, the Cantelli COSI reminds me of the best work of Carlos Kleiber, notably the latter’s performances of LA BOHEME and DER ROSENKAVALIER. As my colleague Henry Fogel notes in his superb liner notes for the Immortal Performances issue under review, COSI FAN TUTTE is an ensemble opera par excellence. And on this occasion, Cantelli had at his disposal six world-class singers, all in prime vocal form, and totally sympathetic to their Maestro’s approach. And that approach was to perform Mozart’s score with absolute respect for the beauty and subtlety of the music, all the while capturing both the comedy and pathos of the story, without ever lapsing into caricature or slapstick. All of the singers also well understand the importance of crystal-clear diction, not only to advance the story, but also to launch and maintain the vocal line. The contributions of the singers are by themselves more than sufficient to recommend this set, but there is also the ravishing, detailed playing Cantelli elicits from the Piccolo Scala Orchestra. Indeed, conductor, singers, and orchestra emerge as a unified voice, complementing each other, and thereby giving Mozart’s score its full due (there are some cuts, typical of performances of the time). This is truly a magical performance from start to finish, and one of the finest accounts of COSI FAN TUTTE I’ve ever heard. If only the quality of the sonics approached the performance! But alas, the radio broadcast is marred by a cramped, colorless acoustic. And as if matters weren’t bad enough, a furnace used to warm the theater during the January performance creates an omnipresent hum. I’ve heard three prior releases of this broadcast….[This] new Immortal Performances release represents by far the best sonic restoration I’ve heard of the Cantelli COSI. Producer Richard Caniell has managed through painstaking work to remove the continuous hum caused by the [Piccolo Scala] furnace, without resorting to noticeable filtering. There is more tape surface noise in this version than the others I’ve heard. But the welcome tradeoff is the best representation by far of the orchestra’s contribution to this performance. And, given the magic conjured by Cantelli and the Piccolo Scala Orchestra, that is a necessary component for a full appreciation of this important document. The singers, too, emerge with greater definition and tonal beauty. In addition to Henry Fogel’s essay on Mozart’s Opera and this performance, the booklet includes a plot synopsis, singer bios, a brief history of Piccolo Scala, Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes, B. H. Haggin’s memorial appreciation of Cantelli, a further essay on the conductor by Caniell, and performance and artist photos. The recorded sound on the Immortal Performances release still does not approach the quality of studio recordings of the era. But at long last, the totality of the unique and transcendent achievement by Cantelli, his superb team of vocal soloists, and the Piccolo Scala forces may be savored in its entirety, with no need to rely upon one’s imagination. Recommended, with gratitude to Richard Caniell and Immortal Performances.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Sept./Oct., 2017