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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte (für Kinder)
Pamina, Ileana Contrubas (sop); Tamino, Peter Schreier (ten); Papageno, Christian Boesch (bar); Sarastro, Kurt Rydl (bass); Queen of the Night, Zdislawa Donat (sop); Papagena, Gudrun Sieber, (sop); Monostatos, Horst Hiestermann (ten)
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/James Levine
Presented by Christian Boesch and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
rec. live, 26 August 1982, Felsenreitschule, Salzburg
LPCM Stereo
Format DVD 9, Region code 0.

This is a production of Die Zauberflöte aimed specifically at children, and performed before an audience of same, all in their Sunday best. The seed for this recording was sown in 1978 with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s renowned production at the Salzburg Festival. This production was performed over an unprecedented nine consecutive festivals, and at the third an extra matinee was organised at which adults were only admitted if accompanied by at least two children under the age of fourteen. This was a huge success, and has had its imitators since.
Basically, the story is narrated, illustrated and brought to life in all kinds of ways by Papageno, played with irrepressible humour and energy by Christian Boesch. The director, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, appears regularly as the stereotypical authority figure, correcting the foolish Papageno, showing everyone what should really be going on when things threaten to go off the rails, or asking questions when Papageno starts taking the children’s foreknowledge for granted. The cast is a very strong one, with a slightly camp looking Tamino sung by Peter Schreier on top form, a suitably vulnerable looking Pamina in Ileana Cotrubas, an impressive Sorastro in Kurt Rydl, and other famous names such as Edda Moser (First Lady).
There is certainly no compromise when it comes to costume, and the sets are fascinating – adding to the magical quality and often to the good humour of the whole thing. The camerawork is that of Austrian television, and is very good indeed, with plenty of variety in perspective and covering all the significant action and expressive content in detail.     
As far as musical content goes this amounts to a ‘highlights’ production, with a grand total of five arias and seven ensemble pieces. The entertainment is supplemented with little educational narrations on ‘what is a bass aria?’ and the like, and some lovely and funny touches, such as improbable creaking when the ‘old crone’ sits down next to Papageno. The ‘drei knaben’ - boy soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchores - appear as three little bewigged Mozarts. We also see James Levine playing the celesta in the orchestral pit which is a nice little bonus, as are the glimpses of the normally formal Wiener Philharmoniker in summer mufti.
Just looking at the audience, 1982 seems like another world now, and for many English speakers Germany - by which I mean Austria of course - will always be ‘another country’. This is very much a German language production, and I can imagine the patience of most English-speaking children being pushed to the limit quite quickly on having to follow great swathes of text translated into subtitles – no matter how big the typeface. I would have tried it out on my little daughter, but aged 5 I’m afraid the great story of love would soon be distracted by My Little Pony. This would certainly be an excellent study aid for anyone working on this piece for their GCSE or ‘A’ Level exams in the U.K. however, with the story given in a memorable and digestible way. The clarity of diction means it would also be a terrific supplement to any German language course. As entertainment in its own right it rightly deflates any stuffed shirts which might protest at such a treatment of Grand Opera. Mozart will of course be forever young; his music timeless, and there cannot be that many operas which thrive on such an adaptation.
Dominy Clements  


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