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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte K620 - Highlights
Erika Miklósa (soprano) Queen of Night; Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) Pamina; Julia Kleiter (soprano) Papagena; Christoph Strehl (tenor) Tamino; Kurt Azesberger (tenor) Monostatos; Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone) Papageno; René Pape (bass) Sarastro; Caroline Stein (soprano) First Lady; Heidi Zehnder (soprano) Second Lady; Anne-Carolyn Schlüter (mezzo) Third Lady; Alexander Lischke (soprano) First Boy; Frederic Jost (soprano) Second Boy; Niklas Mallmann (mezzo) Third Boy; Danilo Formaggia (tenor) First Armed Man and Second Priest; George Zeppenfeld (bass) Speaker; Sascha Borris (bass) Second Armed Man; Andreas Bauer (bass) First Priest; Tobias Beyer (speaker) Third Priest
Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. Teatro Comunale, Modena, Italy, September 2005
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6319 [73:44]

Claudio Abbado (b.1933) has come to Mozart operas late in his career. He has already recorded Don Giovanni with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe but has kept Die Zauberflöte for Mozart’s centenary year (2006). The complete recording of this Modena performance has garnered considerable praise (see review) and this highlights disc goes some way towards explaining why.
Meticulous as ever, Abbado consulted the autograph and corrected a number of discrepancies. Armed with this information he brought together an excellent young cast and his beloved Mahler Chamber Orchestra for the project
Stylistically the magisterial overture is a good indication of Abbado’s approach to this music. The playing is crisp and alert, combining weight with transparency, fusing the more traditional approach with that of the authenticists. But make no mistake this is not a fudge but a genuine middle way that pays dividends in the end.
The orchestra plays with real elegance throughout but of the singers it is the women who really shine, notably Erika Miklósa as the fabled Queen of the Night.. Her Act I entreaties to Tamino ‘O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!’ are suitably imploring but she yields little to her rivals in the accuracy and ease with which she tackles this difficult aria. Her vocal control is even more astonishing in the vengeful ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ in Act II. Abbado keeps the music flowing all the time but goads the orchestra into action when Mozart demands it. One can well imagine a storm of ‘Bravas!’ in the house after such a coruscating display.
Veteran René Pape makes an imposing Sarastro, trying to bend Pamina to his will in ‘Es lebe Sarastro! Sarastro soll leben!’. This is an object lesson in balancing vocal poise and passion, but it is Röschmann as Pamina who really thrills. Just listen to the heartbreak in every bar of her Act II aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden’ and ‘Du also bist mein Bräutigam?’. These are perfect ripostes to those who still think Mozart doesn’t ‘do’ emotions; only the hardest of hearts could not be moved by the maiden’s grief.
Of the men Hanno Müller-Brachmann makes an engaging and attractive bird-catcher. His ‘Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja’ from Act I is light and airy, less hammy than some, the music nicely pointed. He convincingly modulates from stoicism in ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen wünscht Papageno sich!’ to despair in ’Papagena! Papagena! Papagena! Weibchen! Taubchen!’. His patter song with Papagena is delightfully done, a welcome ray of sunshine after the all-prevailing gloom. Julia Kleiter’s Papagena sounds suitably fresh and innocent and although Müller-Brachmann’s voice could do with a touch more ardour and personality, it seems perverse to complain when he sings with such grace and good humour.
Christoph Strehl’s Tamino certainly doesn’t want for passion as he gazes on Pamina’s likeness in Act I (‘Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön’). For his part Kurt Azesberger makes a fine Monostatos, his ’Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden’ in Act II nicely articulated and never plaintive, as it can so easily become.
Abbado keeps the music well sprung, allowing the singers full rein but giving the orchestra their head in the big moments, notably the romping finales to Acts I and II and the thunder and lightning of ‘Nur stille, stille, stille, stille’. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir acquit themselves well, especially in the priests’ prayerful ‘O Isis und Osiris’, and the secondary roles are all well sung too.
It is always difficult to judge the dramatic ebb and flow of an opera from a ‘bitty’ highlights disc but gauging the overall quality of singing and playing is more easily done. Indeed, both are uniformly excellent. The Teatro Comunale in Modena seems a good acoustic for this music, allowing plenty of air around the voices; tuttis bloom nicely and the bass is firm and well articulated. Very pleasing.
What of the competition? On the one hand there is the more old-fashioned Klemperer (sans dialogue) with Lucia Popp an incomparable Queen of the Night (she also sings Pamina for Haitink on EMI 7479518). Karl Böhm is a Mozartian of the old school (DG 4454642), his account memorable chiefly for Fritz Wunderlich’s marvellous Tamino. Sir Colin Davis’s Mozartian credentials are equally impressive and his Dresden Flute (good value on Philips Duo 4425682) is well worth hearing. Not surprisingly the Dresden band is superb in this music and you get a delectable Pamina from Margaret Price as a bonus, although Lucia Serra’s Queen is no match for Popp’s.
For the more adventurous buyer there is Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Zurich Opera recording on Teldec 2292427162 and William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants version (Erato 0630127052). If you are new to this opera it is probably best to opt for the middle ground but if you are a veteran you will know which approach works best for you.
So, a well-chosen selection from an already much-praised Flute. Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have learned something from the authenticists and strike a good balance between the stylistic extremes of Harnoncourt and Klemperer. As I have indicated there is much to savour in between but if you want a thoroughly refreshing Zauberflöte, well played and well sung, the Abbado is hard to beat.
Dan Morgan


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