Cosi fan Tutte, by Lorenzo da Ponte, Music by Mozart, Illustrations by Balthus, Limited Editions Club

In my continuing series looking at the fantastic livre d’artiste publications of the Limited Editions Club (LEC), I next look at Cosi fan Tutte, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) first performed in 1790. The libretto was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1848). The LEC edition was illustrated by Balthus.

Così fan tutte essentially means “women are like that.” Like one would expect to see in a modern reality television show, the theme is fiancée swapping; though done in a much more intelligent and entertaining fashion than one could ever hope to find in the modern world of entertainment. Two officers are discussing how certain they are that their fiancées will be eternally faithful. An old philosopher places a wager with the two officers, saying he will prove within a day that both fiancées are fickle (“women are all like that”). The two officers will pretend to have been called off to war and will then return in disguise, seducing the fiancée of the other.

The first performance of the opera was in 1790 in Vienna. The first performance in Great Britain was in 1811. It was not performed in the United States until 1922. For most of the 19th century and the early part of the twentieth, it was considered risqué, which probably partially explains its late arrival in the United States.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart does not need much introduction. He was certainly one of the greatest composers in history, if not the best. He composed over 600 works, including many that are generally thought of as the pinnacle of symphonic, chamber, piano, operatic and choral music. His influence on Western music is immense, probably unsurpassed. All of this from a man who died at 35 years of age; though keep in mind he began composing at 5 years old! His exact cause of death is unknown, though assumed to be acute rheumatic fever.

Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the librettos for 28 operas by 11 composers, including Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro in addition to Cosi fan Tutte. Da Ponte wrote in French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Born in Venice, he eventually ended up in the United States in order to avoid creditors. He was a professor of Italian Literature at Columbia, and, in New York, he introduced opera and produced a performance of Don Giovanni. He become a naturalized citizen at the age of 78.

As mentioned in the review of LEC’s Wuthering Heights, Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola (1908-2001), better known as Balthus, was a Polish-French modern artist, considered one of the most important of the twentieth century. Though modern, his works are mostly classical in nature, with significant influence derived from pre-renaissance painters and from the Italian Renaissance. His art was figurative, at a time when most had eschewed that. Balthus was extremely private, almost a recluse. Despite that, his funeral was attended by Prime Ministers, artists and rock stars from around the world.

About the Edition

I am not sure how well the pictures below convey it, but the paper is spectacular, both visually and from a tactile standpoint when touching it. The silk binding has a nice look and feel, though I am sure it will be quite sensitive to fading with light, so be careful. Brush up on your Italian, as there is no translation! The Balthus illustrations are wonderful, as they were in Sight and Touch and The Sonnets to Orpheus. As you can see in the pictures below, while he has a modern touch, his work displays a through appreciation and grasp of classical giants who preceded him. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists of the twentieth century, and us book lovers are lucky that LEC was able to have him illustrate and sign a number of their editions.

The book comes with 3 CD’s with the opera by conductor Hans Rosbaud from 1957. This was Balthus’ favorite opera and favorite conductor. In 1950 the Aix-en-Provence festival had invited Balthus to design sets and costumes for their Cosi fan Tutte; he listened to Cosi with Rosbaud conducting over and over as he painted. This, therefore, was the clear choice to include with this edition. For those wanting to listen to the opera without buying the book, Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl posted an earlier article with a recommendation on the best recording of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte. I picked up the recording he suggested and agree that it is marvelous.

{Ed. Note: LEC has a couple copies of Cosi fan Tutte in stock. Contact Jeanne Shiff at 212-737-7600 or 800-701-8870 if interested.}

Here are some details on the LEC edition:

  • Published in 2001
  • 19″ by 18″
  • Designed, set and printed pin Monotype Centaur by Michael and Winifred Bixler
  • Six multi-color woodcut prints by Balthus
  • Woodblocks cut and editioned by Keiji Shinohara
  • 3 CD’s of Cosi fan Tutte conducted by Hans Rosbaud from 1957
  • Limited to 300 copies, each signed by Balthus
  • Printed in the original Italian on handmade Chinese paper.
  • Bound in blue-green silk to recall the sea at Naples where the opera takes place
  • The same silk covers the hinged, lined case

Pictures

Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Solander Box
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Book in Solander Box with CD’s
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Detail of Title on Cover
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Detail of Title on Cover
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Sample Page with Text
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Sample Page with Text and Balthus Illustration
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Second Sample Page with Text and Balthus Illustration
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Third Sample Page with Text and Balthus Illustration
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Close-up of Balthus Illustration
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Cosi Fan Tutte, Limited Editions Club, Balthus Signature on Colophon

One thought on “Cosi fan Tutte, by Lorenzo da Ponte, Music by Mozart, Illustrations by Balthus, Limited Editions Club

  1. While this LEC may be an artistic achievement, it is certainly on the dowmward slope of the Decline and Fall of the limited Editions Club. It is what might be called “a beautiful suicide.’

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