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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte K620 (1791)
Sarastro - Alfred Reiter; Tamino - Norman Reinhardt; Queen of the Night - Ana Durlovski;  Pamina - Bernarda Bobro; Papagena - Dénise Beck; Papageno - Daniel Schmutzhard; Monostatos - Martin Koch
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Patrick Summers
rec. Bregenz Festival lake stage, 2013
Stage Director: David Pountney
Set Designs: Johan Engels
Costume and Puppet Designs: Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Picture: 16:9 HD/NTSC
Sound: DD 2.0/DTS 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English; French; Spanish; Korean
C MAJOR 713708 [150:00]

This is just about the most eye-catching, spectacular production you could wish to see, not just of The Magic Flute, but of any opera. Set on Lake Constance at the Bregenz Festival it looks simply stunning with a huge, floating domed stage surrounded by three dragons over twenty metres tall, joined by two walkway bridges. Chief Inspector Morse (aka John Thaw) described The Magic Flute as posh pantomime and this is exactly the way the work is portrayed here. It’s not just pantomime though - we have gymnastics, fireworks and enormous puppets thrown in for good measure. How on earth the cast got through the opera without falling off the steep steps and landing in the lake I don’t know.

The overture is used quite magically to set the scene. We see Pamina being captured and taken away by Monostatos on a boat that circles the stage. All hell is let loose at the end of the overture and a large serpent slithers down the dome into the lake, where we now encounter Tamino supported in a huge, floating hand. The serpent inflates as it disappears under the water to become a massive dragon and as battle commences the three ladies appear. These aren’t the usual three ladies as seen in the opera house but three large puppets. The actual singing is off-stage, as it is for the three boys who are also portrayed as puppets. For some strange reason the boys’ roles are taken by three sopranos but it works perfectly well. The stage is used very cleverly. Split into two, the dome rotates and can very quickly become a forest or Sarastro’s kingdom - just two examples. The forest looks like something straight from a child’s fairy-tale book and the lighting effects used during Tamino’s flute solo to show the animals hiding amongst the blades of grass are enchanting. By now, you will get the gist of what we are watching. It’s fantastic, athletic and jaw-dropping. 

The physical impact of the staging is a key element to this production but musically it is also very successful. It must be a huge challenge to keep the singers together with the orchestra in such a huge outdoor space, especially when the cast must also concentrate very hard on keeping their balance. This is not a production that would tolerate any cast members suffering from vertigo. Patrick Summers conducts a small ensemble drawn from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the playing is lively and alert.
Tamino (Norman Reinhardt) and Pamina (Bernarda Bobro) dominate proceedings and steal the show. They are a believable couple and sing their roles very lightly with clarity of diction and excellent intonation. I can’t be quite as enthusiastic about the Papageno of Daniel Schmutzhard. As a character actor he is highly engaging. You simply have to warm to him and his voice is perfect for the role. Unfortunately, he has the tiring habit of dragging behind the beat and this is both distracting and annoying. His famous duet with Papageno (Dénise Beck) is all over the place and both singers are culprits here. Maybe the athleticism required during their big moment made them lose musical concentration. Ana Durlovski (Königen der Nacht) delivers her tessitura arias flawlessly and Alfred Reiter (Sarastro) has a firm, dark lower register. Martin Koch as Monostatos is also very good indeed.
This is a superb production. It’s visually amazing, some of the costumes are wacky and bizarre, musically it’s excellent - despite my one negative comment - and you get a circus thrown in for good measure. I can’t help thinking how much Mozart would have enjoyed this visually stunning realisation of his masterpiece.

John Whitmore