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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART ( 1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte K620 (1791)
Pamina - Bernarda Bobro (soprano); Tamino - Norman Reinhardt (tenor); Papageno - Daniel Schmutzhard (baritone); Sarastro - Alfred Reiter (bass); Queen of the Night - Ana Durlovski (soprano); Papagena - Denise Beck (soprano); Speaker - Eik Wilm Schlute (bass); Monostatos - Martin Koch (tenor); Three ladies - Magdalena Anna Hoffmann, Verena Gunz, Katrin Wundsam
Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Bregenz Festival Chorus/Patrick Summers
Stage Director: David Pountney
Set Designer: Johan Engels
Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting Director: Frabrice Kebour
Video Director: Felix Breisach
rec. live, Bregenz Festival, Seebühne, July 2013
Filmed in High Definition; 1080p; Format 16:9.
Sound formats: PCM Stereo; DTSHD-HD 5.0
Subtitles: German (original language), English, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese.
C MAJOR 713804 [150:00]

With the death of the relatively enlightened Emperor Joseph II, who had commissioned Cosi fan tutte and may even have suggested its plot to Mozart, 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 fellowship of the same Masonic Lodge. The Theater auf der Wieden was a popular theatre holding around one thousand and had a reputation for mounting 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 for Schikaneder’s libretto with much discussion of the relationship of the trials undergone by Tamino and Pamina, and the triumph of good over evil and of the Masonic background of the composer and the librettist. The Masonic influence is also claimed by reference to the frequent occasions on which the number three occurs. It is said that this number is significant in Freemasonry. Certainly the number occurs with the Three Ladies, and Boys as well as in the musical structure. On the other hand Masonic allegory seems not to be borne out by the fact that there are only two trials: of fire and water. If there were Masonic allusions surely they would be to the three steps and trials an initiate has to undergo. 
Die Zauberflöte was very much in the tradition of the Theater auf der Wieden: a popular entertainment with as much spectacle as possible. In the operatic world of today, magnificent Roman amphitheatres not excepted, there is no other venue for spectacle that matches that offered by Bregenz. The booklet gives details regarding what was involved in the creation of what was intended as a spectacular. Facts given include that it took 215 days for construction of the stage with 119 piles being driven down 6 metres into the lake bottom. The three dragons overlooking the multi-tiered stage weighed over 60 metric tons. With audiences of seven thousand providing the necessary income, further visual miracles should have been the order of the day. In a way they were, but these are often overdone or executed in a meaningless manner that in no way illuminates any of the inner meanings of an opera widely accepted as having diversity of interpretation as well as being the most popular in the art form. Seeing the whole tiered stage and action, dominated by three very large dragons, would be, I guess, rather different to seeing mid views, let alone close-ups of singers. Only rarely does the video director get to show us the wider visual perspective that would be seen by the paying audience. To a degree this is understandable in the pervading darkness. However, the film falls between two stools, that of conveying Mozart’s pantomime and of showing the staging spectacle with its many costume variations, some rather gimmicky such as the three ladies costumed as prehistoric birds. The blades of inflated grass on one side of the rotating stage, variously coloured by imaginative lighting, were among the more visually effective images.
 
The costumes varied between rather plain for the three leading protagonists, with Papageno not looking cute in white and orange, to bizarre and largely incomprehensible for Sarastro and other members of his entourage. That for the Queen of the Night was better without being spectacular. The trial of fire was also impressive whilst that of water seemed an opportunity missed. The singing, all being mouth-miked, was very variable and largely undistinguished. That of the Sarastro was inadequate compared with the competition. Likewise the conducting of Patrick Summers showed neither serious nor comic vision.
 
In a year that has seen at least three other video issues of staged performances of this opera, a musically abbreviated Die Zauberflöte,the reduction consequent on playing without interval, is hardly likely to cut the mustard for serious opera enthusiasts.
 
My preference still lies with the 1982 Salzburg production.
 
Robert J Farr 


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