can run riot with a CD recording of an opera; as opposed to
DVD. This is particularly true of The Magic Flute with some
dozen sets of scenery, trap doors, trials of fire and water,
slithery serpents and airborne guiding spirits. The imagination
is wonderful for this, unconstrained by physical theatrical
problems or even a budget.
course, Schikaneder included all those special effects for the
very good reason that his ‘rackety old theatre’ - so described
by Rodney Milnes in a delightful overview of the opera and its
history in the accompanying booklet - had quite remarkable stage
machinery. The obverse of the CD coin is that you miss ‘theatrical
moments’. Simon Keenlyside sings Papageno here; he performed
that same role with great physical verve in the recent Covent
Garden production. Rebecca Evans (Pamina),
John Graham-Hall (Monostatos) and Sir Charles Mackerras were
on duty in that production also. To my mind Chandos have captured
four of the top six from that production, (no, dear Editor,
I decline to name my other two).
Charles Mackerras is on great form bringing out one of the best
orchestral performances to be heard: now driving forward, now
reining back, laying a simple or complicated back-drop but never
drowning the voices. With some thought-provoking tempi, here
is a superbly drilled orchestra under the baton of a true maestro.
orchestra must be responsive to all the characters, each of
whom was regarded by Mozart as crucial to the weave of the music;
this is an opera without leading role(s). Papageno excepted
(well, Schikaneder did write the role for himself) no character
has more than two arias or songs. Indeed the argument that this
is a play with songs has always had its adherents. But as with
many recent productions much of the dialogue is omitted. Here
chunks have had to go to achieve a 2 CD set that concentrates
on the music but retains sufficient dialogue to keep the plot
bubbling along. Which is how Keenlyside treats his Papageno:
he has that wonderful vocal facility to create an image of a
simple direct character. He controls his superb baritone to
keep it within the modest range of colours that fit the role:
and, with Rebecca Evans, he provides a perfect partner for their
duets. Evans also gives an excellent performance: from her floated
high notes left hanging in the air to smooth almost mezzo cream
low: including the occasional very demanding leap between the
two. Here is believable role development via vocal characterisation.
my opinion of Tamino, is that Mozart and Schikaneder do not
allow him to develop greatly. He begins with bow but arrowless,
fainting in the path of a serpent and ends led by Pamina through
the trials. He accepts what he sees, or is told, at face value.
Barry Banks makes the role seem easy with great lyricism in
the portrait aria. His distinctive timbre contributes greatly
to the ensembles and he is the perfect, steady leader for the
fearful, occasionally disobedient and petulant Papageno.
I applaud the translation by Jeremy Sams, I do prefer my Queen
of the Night to start out as the ‘starry’ Queen if only to contrast
with the ‘night’ Queen of Act 2. Elizabeth Vidal delivers the
Queen’s aria in Act 1 with splendid self-pitying stress. She
manages to retain the persuasive tone in the coloratura section
for her encouragement of Tamino, instead of spilling over into
threatening mode that she reserves for Act 2. I thought that
just occasionally her insistent complete word enunciation caused
her to become very slightly squally. However when in the stratosphere
words of course disappear and there is a more comfortable sound
of note-hitting seismic shifts.
three ladies are splendid – perhaps even over-cast for these
roles. Here are servants of the Queen who start as they mean
to go on. Vocally strong, commanding of Papageno and supportive
of their Queen. The quintet with Banks and Keenlyside is particularly
enjoyable for the polish of the vocal balance.
Tomlinson’s Sarastro is full of gravitas. Occasionally his vibrato
becomes a little close to a wobble but that aside here is a
superbly dark voice with deep colouring and low notes which
do not evaporate. John Graham-Hall’s Monostatos is a gently
vengeful Moor: his aria “All the world ... ” moves from
pathos to a determination for his assault on Pamina that he
manages to convey is bound to fail. A villain who ‘never quite
made it’, portrayed with almost charm.
Purves does not merely double up: he ‘trebles up’. The higher
lying vocal range of the Speaker is despatched with magisterial
aplomb; then he plainly relishes the role of the First Priest.
And with Peter Bronder as the two Armed Men there is a powerful
delivery of the ‘Bach’ cantata or Lutheran chorale. I also enjoyed
their almost frivolous trio with Banks with whom their voices
three ‘boys’ also achieve a vocal dovetailing. These guides,
advisers and savers from suicide, produce a very comforting
and comfortable sound – I would certainly entrust myself to
is too evidently Lesley Garrett. Amusing as she is with her
northern accented ‘old woman’, she does not sound ‘old’ – indeed
far too hale and hearty. As you would expect, this is fine when
revealed as Papagena, bright as a button and vocally entertaining.
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir is on excellent form. They produce a
deeply resonant sound both as Priests and as Chorus. And let
me not forget some ‘magical’ flute and glockenspiel playing
by Celia Chambers and Gareth Hancock respectively.
here is a fine CD set. With virtually every word enunciated
perfectly, you can dispense with the accompanying libretto and
just sit back and enjoy another excellent Opera in English.