is a many-wondered thing. It can
be appreciated on almost any plane;
as a daft farce, or a silly pantomime
or as a tale of life and love, culminating
in an inspiring ceremony celebrating
the virtues of maturity and wisdom.
For some it is as profound an exploration
of the forces of good and evil as anything
in music or art. After all that, you
may find its dramatic oddities such
that it's best treated simply as a concert-reservoir
- full to overflowing - of some of the
loveliest - and some of the most stirring
- music ever penned!
Norrington's 1990 recording
makes an attractive investment, and
has no major flaws. That's unusual in
this opera of all operas: after all,
it demands a great deal of a great many.
Rolfe-Johnson sings Tamino's beautiful
music with a very appropriate earnestness.
Dawn Upshaw is most engaging as Pamina,
and sings the impossibly taxing 'Ach
ich fühls' with a rare combination
of composure and accuracy. Andreas Schmidt
is tremendous fun as Papageno, as well
as being vocally secure: Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Papagena,
in the shape of the delightfully playful
Catherine Pierard, is his perfect partner.
Cornelius Hauptmann's Sarastro is heartfelt,
but a trifle lightweight in tone for
such a heavyweight role. For me, Beverley
Hoch perfectly exemplifies the problem
of casting the Queen of the Night: wonderfully
precise and agile coloratura,
but her tone disappointingly undernourished
in the normal soprano pitch range. The
minor roles, including the threesomes,
are uniformly excellent.
is characteristic of much that he's
committed to disc. Musically shaped,
with a keen ear for detail, and muscular:
but rather fast throughout, occasionally
to the point of being unsympathetic,
even breathless - I doubt that his cast
was universally happy with all of these
tempi. As ever, the London Classical
Players are superb, and the Schütz
Choir's singing (perfectly balanced,
with a strong bass line, as befits such
noble choral writing) is everything
one could want.
The ample (too
ample?) dialogue was prepared by Peter
Branscombe, and is full of thunderous
sound effects. It's very well done,
but I must say I find it all rather
tiresome, partly because my German's
not good enough to keep pace with it,
but partly also because constant interruptions
to Mozart's inspired music are trying.
It's not just the trivia which irritates:
it's the way the brakes are repeatedly
applied to an already-flawed drama.
But Mozart planned it that way - or
accepted that he had to go with Schikaneder's
specifications - so I must be patient!
Happily, it's all separately indexed,
so (with a few minutes' programming)
can easily be edited out. Meanwhile,
the new Mackerras-Chandos recording,
which will offer a very different experience
for us English speakers, is eagerly
The leaflet comprises
a very full synopsis which, regrettably,
doesn't refer to track numbers. So if
you don't know the opera, you need to
be able to concentrate pretty hard to
put it to best use. No notes on its
history, by the way, or the performance:
and no libretto.
I'm not sure why Act
2 has to start on the first CD, and
for everything to be unnecessarily interrupted
after 'O Isis und Osiris'. Why not Act
1 on CD1, and Act 2 complete on CD2?
This Magic Flute
is notably well-balanced, both as a
performance and as a recording. You
may find, as I do, that its impact is
lessened by Norrington's impatient pacing,
and by the sheer quantity of dialogue:
but in every other respect, it's as
good as any.
Peter J Lawson