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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte K 620 (1791)
Pamina - Felicity Lott (soprano); Tamino - Leo Goeke (tenor); Papageno - Benjamin Luxon (baritone); Sarastro - Thomas Thomaschke (bass); Queen of the Night - May Sandoz (soprano); Papagena - Elisabeth Conquet (soprano); Speaker - Willard White (bass); Monostatos - John Fryatt (tenor); Three ladies - Teresa Cahill, Patricia Parker, Fiona Kim
Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Director: John Cox; Stage Designer: David Hockney; Lighting Designers: Robert Bryan, Bill Burgess
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1978
Video Director: Dave Heather
DVD Format: DVD 9/NTSC. Sound Format: PCM Stereo. Picture Format: 4:3
Subtitle Languages: German (original language), English, French, Spanish
Booklet notes in English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 311 [163:00]

The death of the enlightened Emperor Joseph II who had commissioned Cosi fan tutte and may even have suggested its plot to Mozart was a significant landmark. With it the composer’s source of operatic patronage appeared to have dried up. Given his parlous financial state he welcomed Emanuel Schikaneder’s suggestion that he compose a ‘magic opera’ for his Theater auf der Wieden. The two had resumed friendship when Schikaneder returned to Vienna in 1789 and they shared the fellowship of the same Masonic Lodge. The Theater auf der Wieden was a popular venue holding around one thousand. It mounted productions featuring elaborate machinery, live animals, spectacular lighting and scenic effects. These were interspersed with topical jokes in the local patois and songs to suit an unsophisticated audience.
Various sources have been suggested as the basis for Schikaneder’s libretto. Discussion has ranged over the relationship between the trials undergone by Tamino and Pamina, the triumph of good over evil and the Masonic background of both composer and librettist. Evidence of the Masonic aspect is claimed in relation to the frequent occasions the number three occurs in the opera; it is said that this number is significant in Freemasonry. Certainly the number occurs with the Ladies, Boys and Doors as well as in the musical structure. What tends to undermine the Masonic allegory is the fact that there are only two trials: of fire and water. If there were any Masonic allusions it would surely be to the three steps and trials an initiate has to undergo to be raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Die Zauberflöte is very much in the tradition of the Theater auf der Wieden: a popular entertainment with as much spectacle as possible.
Following the highly successful Glyndebourne collaboration between director of productions John Cox and pop art painter David Hockney on The Rake’s Progress in 1974 the theatre commissioned the artist again as set designer: spectacle and visual effects were to play their part once more. Renowned for his illusionist painting technique Hockney’s approach was designed to reduce perspective and concentrate the move from scenery to backcloth. Along with the use of trompe l’oeil, the outcome in Zauberflöte is a fairyland of colourful representational images and shapes enhanced by imaginative lighting. Hockney’s penchant for Egyptian symbols, something he discovered whilst studying at the Royal College of Art, was also indulged. All of this was coupled with a wish to respect Schikaneder’s intentions. A second successful collaboration between director and set designer was expected. With the two in separate continents this was not wholly achieved. Some incongruities are evident to the knowledgeable eye. Hockney was dissatisfied with the costumes. A further frustration arose from the fact that the elaborate sets required all the hoists to be in use. This in turn dictated that the gondola for the three boys had to be substituted by a cart decorated by clouds. It was, however, better than any other production I have seen. The magical effects are just that with the scene involving the dancing animals (CH.17) - one even sticking its tongue out at another - being especially enchanting. Likewise the trial by fire is thoroughly convincing (CH.47) visually speaking.
After somewhat heavy orchestral textures in the overture (CH.2) Bernard Haitink’s fleeting tempi are wholly in tune with the production. The spoken dialogue has been trimmed to splendid effect but the solo singing is somewhat variable. I liked Leo Goeke’s Tamino. He has enough edge to his voice, allied to mellifluous heady tones when needed. He shapes Mozart’s phrases with some elegance to convey Tamino’s many variations of mood. Felicity Lott disappointed me as Pamina. With a slight vibrato she even seems vocally uncomfortable in Ach ich fuhl’s (CH.37). Benjamin Luxon is comfortable, if not achieving the vocally expressive standard of the non pareil Christian Boesch at Salzburg (see review). Luxon’s easy stage presence, movement, involved acting and facial expressions are worth a lot (CHs 5, 40, 48-49). He looks somewhat middle-aged to still be pursuing young birds such as the Papagena the ends up with and whom, in the person of Elisabeth Conquet, is a visual and vocal delight. I found John Fryatt’s blacked-up Monostatos better sung and acted than either Thomas Thomaschke’s Sarastro or May Sandoz’s Queen, the latter’s middle and lower tones being distinctly on the thin side. The Three Ladies act and sing well as do the three pubescent girls as the three boys. Perhaps only in the related arenas of Salzburg and Vienna can we expect boy altos in these roles.
This colourful production could be ideal for introducing children to opera and as light entertainment for more serious viewers. For the real thing the 1982 Salzburg performance and cast takes some beating.
Robert J Farr