Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte K620 (1791)
Pamina - Ileana Cotrubas (soprano); Tamino - Peter Schreier (tenor); Papageno - Christian Boesch (baritone); Sarastro - Martti Talvela (bass); Queen of the night - Edita Gruberova (soprano); Papagena - Gudrun Seiber (soprano); Speaker - Walter Berry (bass); Monostatos - Horst Hiestermann (tenor); Three ladies - Edda Moser, Ann Murray, Ingrid Mayr
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/James Levine
Director, Set and Costume Designer - Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
rec. live, Salzburger Festspiele, 1982.
Sound Format - PCM Stereo. Picture Format - 4:3 colour. Region Code - 0
Subtitle Languages: German (original language), English, French, Spanish, Italian
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107199 [2 DVDs: 189:00]

I recently reviewed a DVD of one of the shortest recordings of this opera. It was also conducted by James Levine, at the Metropolitan Opera (Sony Classical DVD 88697910139). In English, it dropped most of the dialogue and a few items of music as well. It was quite a visual spectacular and intended, I think, as an ideal introduction for children. This recording of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s memorable 1977 Salzburg production lies at the other extreme in terms of length. It includes nearly all, perhaps all, of the original dialogue that Emmanuel Schikaneder wrote for Mozart to set to music for performance in his tiny Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, shortly before the composer’s untimely death.

This production might be at the other pole to the Met’s abbreviated version, but it is comparable in its visual impact; more so as a production. It played in the Felenreitschule for a total of eleven continuous years after its premiere on 28 July 1978. It set an all-time record for a Mozart production in Salzburg; one, to the best of my knowledge, that has not been bettered since. The wide stage, with a pop-up second stage, and the use of the rear arcades, is creative imagination at its very best. The Felenreitschule came into being in the 17th century, created on the site where stone was quarried for construction of the present cathedral. The three tiers of arcades provided a vantage point from which audiences could view animal bating and the like. Ponnelle’s creative use of the stage space and arcades is remarkable. The cast includes some who sang at the premiere of the production five years before, all outstanding interpreters and totally at ease with the vocal demands of the music. Altogether we have a stunning success on the cards. Then add a conductor and orchestra in whose blood the music ran and a memorable performance was to be expected and was realised.

The only occasions where the dialogue might have seemed a little long were in Act One (DVD 1 CHs.6 and 14) when the acted involvement of the participants alleviated any feeling of longueur. The first of those followed on immediately after the first appearance of the pop-up stage and Papageno’s Der Volgenfänger sung with appropriate action and vocal nuance by Christian Boesch. His is not a name that resounds like those of some of the other soloists, but it should. His singing and superb acting, rolling, falling and looking scared to death are integral to the vibrancy of this performance. He was, I believe, the only one of the original cast who sang in every revival. Several others from the premiere bring quality to this performance. First perhaps is the physically imposing Sarastro of Martti Talvela with his vocal sonority and gravitas evident throughout and particularly in his two arias (DVD 2 CHs.3 and 14). Likewise, in her two arias, Edita Gruberova as Queen of the Night was simply outstanding. Her coloratura pinpoint and her high F in the act two Der Holle Räche are absolutely secure (DVD 1 CH. 9 and DVD 2 CH.12). The warm stage personality of Ileana Cotrubas comes over well and if vocally she does not match Lucia Popp in the near contemporaneous audio recording under Haitink (EMI) hers is a considerable portrayal with Ach, ich fühl’s a highlight (DVD 2. CH.18).

New to the cast after the premiere was Peter Schreier as Tamino. Looking a little his age in the odd close-up, his mellifluous Mozart tenor is heard to good effect from the start with Dies Bildnis phrased with his renowned elegance (DVD 1 CH.7). The lesser roles of Monostatos, Papagena and Speaker were all taken with vocal appeal and acted conviction by Horst Hiestermann, Gudrun Seiber and Walter Berry respectively. The three ladies, Edda Moser, Ann Murray and Ingrid Mayr were distinctive and well blended. The quality Chorus of the Vienna State Opera and the three boys were icing on this wonderful cake.

Despite not being filmed in HD, and in 4:3 format, this is a top recommendation for this wonderful work. They do not do productions like this any more I regret to say.

Robert J Farr

A top recommendation. They do not do productions like this any more I regret to say.