The liner-notes fail to mention that the origin of this set
was the production at Aix en Provence in 1994, directed by Robert
Carsen, and then brought to the studio the following year. William
Christie has primarily been associated with French baroque opera
and this may have been his first venture into Mozart - a long
leap indeed. What he has retained from his French background
is the crisp airy textures and a wholly beguiling transparency
of orchestral sound. He is swift and full of energy and conveys
a sense of impatience in the overture - not impropriate in fact.
There is power in the tutti passages but we don’t get
the solemn nobility of the important brass chords. For those
who want Die Zauberflöte monumental with focus on
the ritual scenes, Otto Klemperer’s legendary recording
is the best choice. William Christie is much more interested
in Papageno and his caprices - closer to nature. The period
instruments no doubt contribute to the outdoor feeling and so
do, in a most realistic way, the frightening thunderstorm at
the beginning of CD 2. One can sense poor Papageno’s fear.
The sound is very good and the balance is excellent. I presume
that the influence of director Carsen’s instructions,
and the singers’ experience of the live performances,
are important for the lively spoken dialogue. As can be seen
from the header, some of the roles have actors for the dialogue,
not every one of the singers is sufficiently fluent in German.
The light touch of the conducting is mirrored also in the choice
of singers. Reinhard Hagen is a warm fatherly Sarastro, rather
baritonal in timbre but with solid pitch-black low notes. A
true bass is also employed for the Speaker’s part, and
a monumental actor at that. Willard White -nowadays Sir Willard
- has also appeared in non-singing roles. I remember his Othello
at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production in 1990,
which was also televised.
Anton Scharinger, a splendid actor, is a jovial Papageno in
the Walter Berry mould - a true Naturmensch. This is
a role that can hardly fail to be a success, provided the actor
is an ‘actor’. Well, he must be able to be a down-to-earth
singer as well, not too sophisticated. Scharinger is close to
Tamino is fairly often sung by light lyrical voices. Dermota,
Simoneau, Ahnsjö at the Stockholm Opera in the early 1970s,
to mention a few, but can also be executed by heavier voices.
Helge Rosvaenge was Beecham’s Tamino on that famous recording
from 1939 and Siegfried Jerusalem for Haitink - admittedly before
he took on Tristan and Siegfried - was very successful. Hans
Peter Blochwitz belongs to the former category and his flexible,
beautiful voice is well suited to Christie’s approach.
Dies Bildnis is soft and intimate, whereas Wie stark
ist nicht dein Zauberton is expressive without coarsening
the tone. Steven Cole’s Monostatos is well contrasted
to Blochwitz: expressive and evil-sounding in his aria in act
Of the female singers Natalie Dessay sounds rather human in
the low register but brilliantly super-human up on high. I was
a bit disappointed, though, with Der Hölle Rache:
too heavy for my taste and not in line with the conducting.
But her technique is impeccable. Rosa Mannion’s Pamina
is a lovely creature, warm and sensitive and she sings well
but is rather pale in her aria. There is a charming Papagena
and the three ladies are well matched with an especially fine
First Lady, sung with dramatic verve and glorious tone by Anna
Maria Panzarella. There is also a good trio of boys from the
Maîtrise de l’Opéra de Lyon.
Die Zauberflöte has been successfully recorded a
number of times and to pick a clear winner isn’t easy.
Klemperer, as I have already indicated, is special. Among more
middle-of-the-road versions I have always been very fond of
Fricsay’s mono recording from 1955, its main drawback
being that the spoken dialogue is taken by actors with voices
that don’t correspond with those of the singers. Karl
Böhm’s DG recording from the mid-1960s with Fritz
Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Franz Crass and Hans Hotter
as a very individual Speaker has a lot going for it, even though
the women are not quite in the same class. There is also a good
EMI version conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Philips
recording with Colin Davis. The most recent recording, which
I haven’t yet heard but which has had rave reviews, is
René Jacobs on Harmonia Mundi. It is at full price while
those previously mentioned can be had at a fraction of that
price. Jacobs’ is also, I believe, the recording that
is closest to Christie in style. At Warner’s super-budget
price no one will be seriously disappointed by this fresh account.
see also review by Margarida