Così fan tutte is an ideal candidate for Chandos' Opera in English series; it's so talky and the libretto is so verbally witty and subtle that hearing it in English gives it an immediacy that's not possible when it's sung in a language in which one isn't fluent. The English version by Marmaduke Browne, adapted by John Cox, is very fine, natural, and well-fitted to the music. The performances are of such high quality that appreciating this version doesn't require the listener to set aside expectations for musical excellence in order to understand the text. Charles Mackerras leads the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir in a sparkling, deliciously perky reading of the score; he sets the antic tone by taking the overture at what must be a world's record speed. The orchestra's playing, particularly that of the winds, is breathtakingly agile. The singers are all topnotch vocalists and comedians, making this a truly memorable performance. Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso and Lesley Garrett as Despina nearly steal the show with the natural wittiness (and frequent hilarity) of their delivery, and the polish of their vocalism. Christopher Maltman as Guglielmo and Toby Spence as Ferrando are fresh-voiced and winningly idealistic, and both have voices ideal for Mozart: supple, but warm and full. This is one of Spence's finest recorded performances, intensely lyrical and impassioned; Mozart seems to suit his voice more easily than the Baroque repertoire for which he's better known. Maltman's baritone is full and virile, and he makes the most of the role's humor. Janice Watson and Diana Montague as Fiordiligi and Dorabella quickly establish their characters as spoiled, entitled aristocrats who grow in the course of the opera into more complex, troubled individuals. Their singing is animated and clean, their musicianship is flawless, and they are wickedly funny, besides. Happily, Chandos' sound here is clean and present, with excellent balance, unlike some of their releases in this series, in which the balance is eccentrically skewed, in a misguided effort to create a sense of theatrical space. This recording should be of strong interest to anyone who loves the opera, and for anyone who doesn't already know it, it makes the ideal introduction to the work since the subtleties of its text are immediately comprehensible and the performance is so compelling.