Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Magic Flute - An abbreviated edition of Die Zauberflöte K 620 (sung in English) (1791)
Pamina - Ying Huang (soprano); Tamino - Matthew Polenzani (tenor); Papageno - Nathan Gunn (baritone); Sarastro - René Pape (bass); Queen of the Night - Erika Miklósa (soprano); Papagena - Jennifer Aylmer (soprano); Speaker - David Pittsinger (bass); Monostatos - Greg Fedderly (tenor); Three ladies: Wendy Bryn Harmer; Kate Lindsey; Tamara Mumford
The Metropolitan Opera and Chorus/James Levine
Director and Costume Designer: Julie Taymar; Set Designer: George Tsypin
rec. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2006
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS 5.1 surround sound; Region free NTSC DVD; Colour: Subtitles in English
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 910139 DVD [112:00]
Well, well, well ... what is this? For once the English title The Magic Flute is apt since the performance is sung in English. Is it The Magic Flute? Yes, but only parts of it. At a time when conductors and directors try to include every syllable of the long spoken dialogue, here it is drastically cut and, worse than that, there are numerous cuts in the musical numbers as well. The sets and costumes are, well ... fanciful is an understatement. Have a look at the cover photo and you will see what I mean. The singing isn’t all that good either, so is there a reason to read further, still more, to buy the set?
It depends on what you are after. Do you want a historically correct, period music version - then you can just forget this one. Do you want the best Mozart singing in the world - forget it. If you want some light-hearted entertainment, perhaps to experience together with your children, then this is an excellent proposition. Die Zauberflöte is a fairytale. It is full of humour - and a lot of Freemasonry that not only the grandchildren but probably also the rest of the party will resist; but never mind. It is beautiful and filled with high spirits.
What’s wrong with the singing? It couldn’t be the language since most of the cast are Americans and René Pape’s English is as good as anyone else’s. It could be that some of the singers aren’t all that partial to the Mozart idiom - or quite simply that the English words jar against music that is tailor-made for the German text.
The best vocal reason for buying the set is Nathan Gunn, whose Papageno is absolutely superb, vocally and scenically. His arias and the duet with Pamina, the delectable Ying Huang, can stand comparison with the best recorded versions. Erika Miklósa is visually a riveting Queen of the Night. The second of her arias, Der Hölle Rache in the original, is formidable with brilliant top notes. The first aria has a different tessitura, much lower, and down there she sounds uncomfortable. I have admired Matthew Polenzani on several occasions in the past not least as a sensitive Lieder singer in the first instalment of Hyperion’s cycle of the complete songs of Franz Liszt. Here he sounds a bit awkward as Tamino, though he delivers the spoken dialogue with aplomb. René Pape has been a leading Sarastro for some time but here he sounds uncharacteristically bland. Gregg Fedderly is a nasty Monostatos, and for once nasty is a compliment. The three ladies are not bad vocally but one almost forgets about their singing when they appear in ghost costumes. With their detached heads they look like spermatozoa swimming around. I was looking forward to hearing Robert Lloyd, since I saw him listed as ‘Second Guard’ but he never appeared. Thus we were also bereft of the otherworldly:-
Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden,
Wird rein durch Feuer, Wasser, Luft und Erden;
Wenn er des Todes Schrecken überwinden kann,
Schwingt er sich aus der Erde Himmel an. -
Erleuchtet wird er dann im Stande seyn,
Sich den Mysterien der Isis ganz zu weih'n.
It seems that I have compiled a formidable list of shortcomings. Truth is that my wife and I derived a lot of pleasure from this production - though I doubt we are going to see it again in the near future.
Formidable shortcomings but I derived a lot of pleasure from this production.
see also review by Robert Farr