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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Die Zauberflöte (1791)
Sarastro (bass) Matti Salminen
Tamino (tenor) Piotr Beczala
Speaker (bass) Jacob Will
Priest (bass) Peter Keller
The Queen of the Night (soprano) Elena Mosuc
Pamina (soprano) Malin Hertelius
First Lady (soprano) Martina Jankova
Second Lady (soprano) Irène Friedli
Third Lady (mezzo-soprano) Ursula Ferri
Papageno (baritone) Anton Scharinger
Papagena (soprano) Julia Neumann
Monostatos (tenor) Volker Vogel
First Armoured Man (tenor) Kenneth Roberson
Second Armoured Man (bass) Guido Götzen
The Three Boys Zürcher Sängerknaben
Chorus of the Zurich Opera House
Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House/Franz Welser-Möst
Directed by Jonathan Miller
Recorded live at Zurich Opera House (no date)
TDK DVD DV-0 PMF [2 discs: 2 hours 31 mins]


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Die Zauberflöte is such a truly magical work that it’s quite an achievement to give a flat performance. Yet somehow this DVD contains just that; hard to put your finger on what is lacking, for the singing and playing is of an acceptable standard and the acting is a better than you often get from opera singers. Yet the whole production resolutely fails to take wing, the big give-away being the polite ripples of laughter from the Zurich audience, dutiful rather than truly tickled.

The mise-en-scène is heavy on symbolism – lots of pyramidal structures, libraries and so on - but very light on naturalism. So no serpent or monster of any kind pursues Tamino at the start; he simply looks up from the book he happens to be reading to see the Three Ladies who have ‘saved’ him. There is no attempt to depict or suggest in any way the trials that he and Tamina go through towards the end; they just walk behind a screen and walk out again, apparently transformed. And so on.

As I’ve said, some of the singing and acting is good. Elena Mosuc’s Queen of the Night is superbly sung, but doesn’t have the frisson of evil about her that the ‘Sternflammende Königin’ surely must. Piotr Baczala’s Prince Tamino appears to be too thick to realise what is going on at all and sings unimaginatively. Malin Hertelius’s Pamina, on the other hand, sings her main aria, the wonderful ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’, very touchingly, though the production is unhelpful here, as in so many places, in having her stand motionless and stare expressionlessly into the middle-distance. Matti Salminen as Sarastro sings with appropriate solemnity but looks, unfortunately, remarkably like the Young Mr.Grace from BBC television’s ‘Are you being served?’, and I did wonder if he was really well enough to be on stage. Surely Sarastro should be a mature but vigorous and commanding figure?

Most of the intentional humour comes, not unexpectedly, from Anton Scharinger as bird-man Papageno. He struggles manfully for his laughs in the leaden production, and manages to make the best of one or two nice touches, such as the active participation of conductor Franz Welser-Möst in the Bird-Catcher’s song – playing the pan-pipes that Papageno intermittently whistles merrily upon.

Even allowing for the fact that this is a live performance, the balance between stage and pit is seriously awry. The engineers seem to have taken the view that all we really need to hear is the singers, so that the ‘accompaniment’ must be kept down as much as possible, with the result that much of the ravishing instrumental detail disappears without trace, thus removing a major dimension of the opera’s greatness.

Sorry to be negative, but the fact is that this is a most disappointing issue. The incomparable Bergmann realisation stays miles out in front as the best-ever filmed version of the piece, quirky though it is.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Resolutely fails to take wing … see Full Review

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