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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
‘Opera Explained’

An introduction to: The Magic Flute, K.620 Comic opera in two acts (1791)
Narrated by David Timson
Text written by Thomson Smillie
Tamino: Herbert Lippert
Pamina: Elisabeth Norberg-Schulz
Sarastro: Kurt Rydl
Papageno: Georg Tichy
Monostatos: Wilfried Gahmlich
Queen of the Night: Hellen Kwon
Hungarian Festival Chorus
Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Budapest/Michael Halasz,
NAXOS 8.558012 [70:07]

After initial doubts when this CD arrived to review I am now rather enthusiastic about the principle of ‘Opera Explained’ as a general introduction to opera and the actual recording. This is the ninth recording in the Naxos ‘Opera Explained’ series and after listening to the recording I can see the merit in providing a series of non-technical introductions to the major operas in the repertoire. In particular this release will be extremely useful to introduce schoolchildren to opera for music appreciation. For the novice opera lover this will be the perfect way of getting to know ‘The Magic Flute’ opera before attending a performance. Furthermore I can see the usefulness of listening to this disc before actually investing in a full price recording of the opera. However for the seasoned opera lover who is familiar with The Magic Flute there will be very little or no reason to invest.

The first 14 minutes or so of the disc are taken up with a moderately simple spoken biography of Mozart together with a varied selection of musical excerpts from his most significant works. The level of the offered biography does assume that the listener has no previous knowledge of Mozart which may prove tedious to the average classical music lover. Throughout the recording, musical highlights from the opera are interspersed with clear and concise spoken explanations of the plot and various scenes. Any potential purchaser wishing to use this as a ‘highlights’ disc should look elsewhere as the narration is so interwoven with the music as to make pure music listening unachievable.

The Magic Flute, composed in 1791 was Mozart’s last greatest achievement and reinforced his reputation as perhaps the greatest composer of all time. This Naxos release on super budget price uses the music from their acclaimed double set of the complete opera on 8.660030/31 and certainly does justice to Mozart’s greatest opera.

The satisfying and characterful cast are relatively unknown, with the exception of Kurt Rydl, who sings the role of Sarastro to great effect. The outstanding performance from Hellen Kwon as ‘Queen of the Night’ must be singled out for special praise. She conveys a real sense of emotion to her role together with distinguished technical assurance. There is an affectionate and mainly assured reading from conductor Michael Halasz who elicits acceptable performances from both the Failoni Orchestra and Hungarian Festival Chorus. The narrator David Timson is first class and despite the obvious technical difficulties in balancing speech and music the overall sound quality is agreeable.

This Naxos release serves its purpose admirably. The spoken explanations are entertaining, thorough and informative. The performances from all concerned are excellent and the sound quality is more than adequate.

Michael Cookson


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