Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte - Opera in two acts, K620 (1791)
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
Sarastro - Reinhard Hagen (bass); Tamino - Hans Peter Blochwitz (tenor); Sprecher - Willard White (bass); Königin der Nacht - Natalie Dessay (soprano); Pamina - Rosa Mannion (soprano); Erste Dame - Anna Maria Panzarella (soprano); Zweite Dame - Doris Lamprecht (mezzo); Dritte Dame - Delphine Haidan (contralto); Drei Knaben - Damien Colin, Patrick Olivier Croset and Stéphane Dutournier; Papageno - Anton Scharinger (baritone); Ein altes Weib (Papagena) - Linda Kitchen (soprano); Monostatos (ein Mohr) - Steven Cole (tenor); Erster Priester and Erster geharnischter Mann - Christopher Josey (tenor); Zweiter Priester and Zweiter geharnischter Mann - Laurent Naouri (bass)
François Bazola (chorus-master)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. Studio Olivier Messiaen, Radio France, Paris, 2-9 August 1995, DDD. Booklet with cast, list of tracks and synopsis in English, French and German; Libretto in German with English translation at www.opera-guide.ch/opern_komponisten.php
ERATO 256467742-6 [76.08 + 74.19]

This version of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte is a re-issue of a 1995 recording by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, originally released in 1996. Why Erato decided to do a re-issue remains unexplained.

Mozart is one of my favourite composers and I am particularly fond of his operas. I like Die Zauberflöte very much but I have a problem with it on CD. The fact is that as a “Singspiel”, the opera contains a lot of dialogue and while this works brilliantly on stage, it becomes monotonous and a little boring on disc. This recording is based on the live version staged during the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 1995, though it was recorded afterwards in the studio. It was performed in the original language: German. I am certain that some people would say that this is the reason for the monotony in the dialogue, as they believe that Die Zauberflöte is one of those operas that would benefit from a translation into a language more widely spoken. It may well be true for some but not in my case, as I am fluent in German. Although I perfectly understand the spoken parts, they remain monotonous without the visual action to enhance the dramatics of the text. That said, there is much to enjoy in this recording of one of Mozart’s most famous pieces.

William Christie’s interpretation is certainly an interesting one and the fact that Les Arts Florissants play on period instruments naturally adds authenticity to the music, as it will be closer to what Mozart would have heard himself. The sound is generally softer and more gentle than in other performances that I have heard with a modern orchestra, which is due in large part to the period instruments. Christie is true to Mozart’s score and yet he sometimes takes a slightly different direction. He leads the orchestra in a subtle and sensitive manner, making the score feel sweeter than in most performances that I have heard. On occasions, he uses quicker tempos; however, in the famous, spectacular aria from the Queen of the Night Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, Christie does exactly the opposite and slows it down considerably. It does not make the piece more serious but to my mind, makes it less vibrant and its impact is reduced. I prefer a slightly faster version better suited to the sparkling tone and vocal pyrotechnics that the piece demands.

Most of the cast is not very well known, at least not to me. The exceptions are Hans Peter Blochwitz who plays Tamino, Willard White as the Speaker and Natalie Dessay who sings an impeccable Queen of the Night. The others may have been more easily recognisable and famous to opera-goers at the time of the recording but definitely not at present. Let us not forget that the sessions took place fifteen years ago! Having said that, whether they were famous or not is really irrelevant because they harmonise rather well as an ensemble. Blochwitz was still in his prime at the time of the recording. He had a bright, light voice with a sensuous tone and a handsome appearance on stage. His interpretation of Tamino is very pleasing with a tender and beautiful rendition of the famous aria Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön. Pamina is here sung by British soprano Rosa Mannion who gives us a rather charming interpretation. She sounds suitably vivacious and youthful, with a clear tone which she intelligently changes to a more passionate interpretation later with her aria Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden. Papageno is convincingly and extremely well sung by baritone Anton Scharinger, as is the lovely Papagena performed by soprano Linda Kitchen. The three ladies make a vibrant and glittering trio and the three boys sound suitably clear and innocent. Monostatos is also very effectively sung by American character tenor Steven Cole and we have the luxury of Willard White as the Speaker who is excellent. Leaving the best for last, I must now mention German bass Reinhard Hagen as Sarastro and French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay as the Queen of the Night. They positively steal the show! Hagen’s voice is sonorous and majestic yet it exudes a warm authority, which is well suited to the character and makes it sympathetic right from the start. He sings with extraordinary quality and subtle variation. The Queen of the Night is a role that suits Dessay’s sparkling tone and splendid flexibility. She must have been terrific on stage and literally glides effortlessly through the most difficult passages of her two famous arias, in particular, Der Hölle Rache, sustaining those high Fs with surprising ease. Although Christie chose a slower tempo here, Dessay still delivers it vibrantly and is fully convincing in her rage and desire for revenge. Her excellent and clear German pronunciation should also be mentioned as it is no easy achievement for a native French speaker.

Overall, the recording is naturally accomplished and well judged with a fine performance by the orchestra and singers. I enjoyed Christie’s authentic reading immensely though I still prefer a less restrained and more fiery interpretation!

Margarida Mota-Bull

Naturally accomplished and well judged with a fine performance by orchestra and singers.