Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Die Zauberflöte (1791)
Reinhard Hagen (bass) - Sarastro; Hans Peter Blochwitz (tenor) - Tamino; Willard White (bass) - Sprecher; Christopher Josey (tenor) - Erster Priester; Erster geharnischter Mann; Laurent Naouri (bass) - Zweiter Priester; Zweiter geharnischter Mann; Natalie Dessay (soprano) - Königin der Nacht; Rosa Mannion (soprano) - Pamina; Anna Maria Panzarella (soprano) - Erste Dame; Doris Lamprecht (mezzo) - Zweite Dame; Delphine Haidan (contralto) - Dritte Dame; Damien Colin, Patrick Olivier Croset, Stéphane Dutournier - Drei Knaben; Linda Kitchen (soprano) - Ein altes Weib (Papagena); Anton Scharinger (baritone) - Papageno; Steven Cole (tenor) - Monostatos
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
The following actors took part in recording the spoken dialogue:
Sabine Schlichting - Erste Dame; Andrea Schieffer - Dritte Dame; Joachim Seitz - Sprecher; Richard Sammel - Erster Priester; Erster geharnischter Mann; Martin Ploderer - Zweiter Priester; Zweiter geharnischter Mann;
rec. Studio Olivier Messiaen, Radio France, Paris, 2-9 August 1995.
The German libretto together with an English translation, can be found at www.opera-guide.ch/opern_komponisten.php
ERATO 2564 67742-6 [76:08 + 74:19]
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 ideal.
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 II.
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.
Göran Forsling 

see also review by Margarida Mota-Bull

At Warner’s super-budget price no one will be seriously disappointed by this fresh account.