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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte (1791)
Tamino – Piotr Beczala (ten); Pamina – Dorothea Röschmann (sop); Papageno – Detlef Roth (bar); Papagena – Gaël Le Roi (sop); Sarastro – Matti Salminen (bass); Queen of the Night – Désirée Rancatore (sop); Monostatos – Uwe Peper (ten); Speaker – Wolfgang Schöne (bass); First Lady – Cécile Perrin (sop); Second Lady – Helene Schneiderman (sop); Third Lady – Hélčne Perraguin (mezzo); Priest – Bjarni Thor Kristensson (bass); First Armoured Man – Robert Künzli (tenor); Three Boys from Tölzer Knabenchors
Orchestra and Chorus of L’Opéra National de Paris/Iván Fischer
Stage Director: Benno Besson
TV Director: François Rousillon
rec. live, Opéra National de Paris, Jan 2001.
Experience Classicsonline

As is quite often the case, this enchanting production has taken far too long to reach DVD, originating back in 2001. Conceived by the late Swiss stage director and Brecht disciple Benno Besson, this is the sort of evening that really puts the ‘magic’ back into The Magic Flute. Apart from a few modern dress touches, it’s basically a production that Mozart would have recognised, and is none the worse for it. Besson’s long term collaborator, the designer Jean-Marc Stehlé, has produced imaginative costumes and a series of gorgeous sets that seamlessly appear and disappear from the stage floor and flies. The whole thing has an air of pantomime fun and sheer love of theatre without ever losing sight of the deeper themes of love and enlightenment. At times, it reminded me of the famous Ingmar Bergman film - and there is no higher praise. Patrick Lang’s excellent note mentions previous productions from this pair that concentrated on childlike innocence, an approach absolutely tailor-made for The Magic Flute. Besson was obviously determined not to engage his audience in a semi-intellectual debate about the piece’s serious undercurrents of Freemasonry, the Age of Reason. Instead, he lets these themes unfold naturally within the framework of general entertainment: as he says in the booklet, ‘An encounter with reality, which is open and sensual, will work only if there is naďveté present … children can assimilate an enormous amount and do so, moreover, with real depth’.
Aside from being wonderful to look at, one of the chief strengths here is the conducting of Iván Fischer. His recent Glyndebourne Cosi was one of my favourite DVDs of 2007 (see review), and once again his control of tension, of ebb and flow, as well as getting the very best out of his pit band, is glorious to behold. From the Overture onwards, we are never in doubt as to the direction the music is taking, with crisp, characterful ensemble work - especially woodwind - and rhythmic alertness making for a very satisfying orchestral backdrop.
A glance at the cast reveals many international stars, but at this stage quite a few were yet to achieve real stardom. Dorothea Röschmann’s Pamina is wonderfully fresh, light of voice yet beautifully focused. This is a role she is now fully identified with, going on to record it with Abbado - his award-winning DG set - and Colin Davis at Covent Garden. The baby-faced Tamino of Piotr Beczala suits her to perfection, and his ringing tenor is a pleasure to hear, especially ‘Dies Bildnis’, a model of Wunderlich-like head voice and creamy tone. Detlef Roth’s young, energetic Papageno is a comic delight, getting quite a few appropriate laughs but displaying a rich, dark baritone. Gaël le Roi’s Papagena is just as delightful. Désirée Rancacourt’s Queen of the Night pings her two famous coloratura arias out with ringing accuracy, though the portrayal is icy rather than frightening. Still, her first appearance is a real theatrical tour-de-force, quite spectacular.

Matti Salminen, a real old hand as Sarastro, adds great depth and genuine authority. All other parts are well cast, making the whole set an aural treat. It’s so pleasurable to report that on a staging that is just as successful, and I can assure you that your kids will enjoy watching this as much as you. Sound and picture are very good, though as with so many opera DVDs, the camera close-ups reveal odd details never meant to be seen by the theatre audience – we catch odd glimpses of stage machinery, and the Priests look as if they are wearing hairnets. It’s also nice to report that applause is very minimal, with only the very famous arias – the Queen’s, Pamina’s ‘Ach, ich fühls’ – attracting any, and even then Fischer makes sure we get on with the show pretty smartly. There are no extras, but it’s churlish to complain when this 2 hour 40 minute piece is on one disc. There are, admittedly, quite a few Flutes to now choose from on DVD, but this is as good as any I’ve come across in recent times.
Tony Haywood


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