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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K 620 (1791)
Kurt Moll (bass) – Sarastro; Peter Schreier (tenor) – Tamino; Edda Moser (soprano) – Queen of the Night; Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano) – Pamina; Walter Berry (baritone) – Papageno; Olivera Miljakovic (soprano) – Papagena; Theo Adam (bass) – Speaker; Leonore Kirschstein (soprano) – First Lady; Ilse Gramatzki (mezzo) – Second Lady; Brigitte Fassbaender (contralto) – Third Lady; Willi Brokmeier (tenor) – Monostatos; Wilfried Badorek (tenor) – First Priest, First Armed Man; Günter Wewel (bass) – Second Priest, Second Armed Man; Walter Gampert (treble) – First Boy; Peter Hinterreiter (treble) – Second Boy; Andreas Stein (alto) – Third Boy
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. Bürgerbräu, Munich, 8–16 August 1972
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3932662 [74:26 + 73:53]



Recording Die Zauberflöte with an all-German speaking cast has its advantages, first and foremost in the authenticity of the spoken dialogue but also in idiomatic singing. The chances of this set being good were high, especially with a chorus and orchestra from one of the foremost German opera houses. Expectations are further raised by Wolfgang Sawallisch’s involvement, being a conductor equally at home on the concert platform and in the opera house. As can be seen from the cast-list many of the singers are noted Mozarteans. Kurt Moll, who in 1972 was pretty much at the beginning of his international career, here sang his first recorded Sarastro out of four. He appeared as the Second Armed Man on the 1971 DVD from Hamburg which I reviewed a while ago. Peter Schreier had already recorded Tamino for Suitner in 1968 and went on to sing the role for Colin Davis and Harnoncourt. Walter Berry is here heard as Papageno in his third recording, the first with Karl Böhm in 1955 and the second with Klemperer a decade later. Edda Moser and Anneliese Rothenberger also have Mozart recordings to their credit, even though the latter is best known for her many operetta recordings. Theo Adam was Sarastro on the aforementioned Suitner recording. Thus there is plenty of Mozart expertise gathered here.
 
That Sawallisch is also a highly regarded pianist is perhaps not so well-known. Taking time out from his conducting duties, he has accompanied such great Lieder singers as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey, in the recital hall as well as on recordings. This is a talent that is of importance for an opera conductor. There are opera maestros that set their own seal on the performances and the singers have to struggle to make their points. Not so when Sawallisch is at the helm. This doesn’t mean that he is a reticent accompanist, but he is a good listener. I would think that his first question to the record producer after a take is the same as Gerald Moore’s: “Am I too loud?“. I have always found him a reliable conductor in a wide repertoire and this Zauberflöte is no exception. From the well-paced and dynamic overture to the very end this is a highly idiomatic performance with no quirky tempos, no exaggerated dynamics but with plenty of life in the folksy pages and solemnity in the serious sections. There is power and conviction in the visceral dramatic arias, mainly The Queen of the Night’s two arias. The chorus is excellent throughout and invest the final pages with oratorio-like greatness.
 
Die Zauberflöte is one of the operas I have returned to most often during the more than forty years that have passed since I bought my first LP recording of it, Karl Böhm’s legendary DG set. That had Fritz Wunderlich as an almost unsurpassable Tamino, and every time I hear it I find new things to marvel at and admire. What first struck me this time was the contrapuntal writing for the three ladies in the introduction. Every time it is so obvious how Mozart has achieved a special musical ”language“ that is so specific to this opera and differs markedly from his ”Italian” operas. This is also apparent with the “odd” number here, the little duet for Tamino and Papageno, Pamina, wo bist du?, inserted before the quintet Wie? Wie? Wie? Ihr am diesen Schreckensort? (No.12 in the Eulenburg score). Whether this is authentic Mozart is, I believe, open to debate, but on the internet I found information from someone who had contacted Wolfgang Sawallisch on this issue, saying: “Apparently the source of the duet is an entry in the appendix to the complete Köchel catalog. Mr. Sawallisch said that since it is so difficult to do something new with such an often-recorded piece such as Die Zauberflöte, he decided to include the duet in his interpretation. And he knows of no other performance.” (from a letter by the conductor to the author of the Belfry blog). It is of course interesting to have some unknown Mozart but honestly it isn’t a very good piece of music and if it actually was written for the opera it was a wise decision to cross it out. Peter Schreier and Walter Berry do what they can to save it.
 
There is a fair amount of spoken dialogue included though by no means everything - thank God! On every recording and every live performance I have heard, the dialogue has been trimmed in one way or other. The most “complete” is I believe Furtwängler’s live recording from Salzburg. Some recordings, Fricsay on DG for example, have a separate cast of actors which means that there is a very obvious discrepancy between the singing and the speaking voices. Harnoncourt has a narrator, which distances the dialogue even further, while Klemperer is the most radical of all; he excludes all the dialogue. The Sawallisch set retains enough of it to make the proceedings understandable and it is well executed with a special plus for Walter Berry’s lively Papageno and Olivera Miljakovic’s whining crone.
 
The singing is consistently stylish and well characterized but not all the voices are ideally ingratiating. Head and shoulders above the rest, in more than one sense, is Kurt Moll’s warm and noble Sarastro. Few basses have had more beautiful voices and few have been able to produce such superb legato singing. It is even more remarkable that he went on singing with little noticeable deterioration of his vocal resources until 2006 when he gave his farewell performance as the Night-watchman in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg during the Munich Summer Festival. Walter Berry’s Papageno is also as well sung as one has a right to expect but by 1972 his voice had darkened and he sounds slightly elderly, compared to his first recorded Vogelfänger in 1955. Edda Moser’s highly dramatic Queen of the Night is quite outstanding and I believe that this is what Schikaneder and Mozart had in mind. Such an evil character must be formidable to make her mark, whereas a traditional lyric canary is only pretty and harmless. Ms Moser’s high-charged force doesn’t exclude pinpoint top-notes and fluent coloratura. Quite an achievement!
 
Peter Schreier was one of the great Mozart tenors for many years. He is as expressive and enunciates as well as any competitor but his actual sounds are less attractive. He sings with considerable strain and plangent tone robs his reading of true nobility. The two best Tamino’s on records are certainly Leopold Simoneau (Böhm 1955) and Fritz Wunderlich (Böhm 1965). Anneliese Rothenberger is also an older-than-average Pamina, sometimes slightly squally but she gives a fine inward reading of her aria in act 2. Among the more marginal singers Theo Adam is an excellently articulate Speaker but his singing is rather shaky, while Olivera Miljakovic is a pretty Papagena when she eventually comes out in her true colours.
 
The ladies are not the best matched trio on record but more than acceptable and it is good to hear the characteristic deep voice of Brigitte Fassbaender as the Third Lady. The three boys, soloists of the Tölz Boys’ Choir, are on the other hand, truly superb.
 
There is no libretto but a quite good cued synopsis. The early 1970s recording is excellent. At the price this is a splendid buy, even though it doesn’t sweep the board. There are a number of other excellent versions. Fricsay on DG is in mono and has this extra cast of actors for the dialogue. It is expertly conducted and there is no weak link among the singers. Rita Streich is an outstanding, but of course lyrical, Queen of the Night and Fischer-Dieskau a superb Papageno. Böhm on Decca has one of the best Taminos, Berry’s first Papageno, Hilde Güden’s lovely Pamina and Wilma Lipp a splendid Queen of the Night. Sadly he has a less than enticing Sarastro. Böhm’s stereo remake for DG is possibly the best bet of all: Wunderlich, Fischer-Dieskau, Franz Crass a noble Sarastro and Hans Hotter a deeply moving Speaker. Less attractive are the two American sopranos as Pamina and the Queen of the Night but still better than average. Finally there’s Colin Davis on Philips with Schreier and Moll and Margaret Price as Pamina. Any of these versions should adorn anyone’s collection and Sawallisch belongs in this illustrious company.
 
Göran Forsling
 



 


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