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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K620
Maximilian Schmitt (Tamino), Christina Landshamer (Pamina), Thomas Oliemans (Papageno), Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro), Íride Martínez (Königin der Nacht), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Monostatos), Nina Lejderman ((Papagena)
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Chorus of Dutch National Opera/Marc Albrecht
Simon McBurney (stage director)
rec. live, Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam, December 2012
Sound format: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS
OPUS ARTE OABD7133D Blu-ray [156:00]

Die Zauberflöte is an opera director’s dream, an invitation to be a co-creator with Mozart and Schikaneder. There are not so many classical operas where the entire plot and cast is already a set of symbols, and so is open to any number of further symbolic interpretations. It is such a potent mixture of enlightenment and masonic underpinnings, its three lustful ladies and three boys wise beyond their years, wicked Queen of the Night and sage Sarastro, trials to be undergone, and novitiates to come through. Mozart's Singspiel combines high seriousness and low farce, and depicts a philosophy of life through a fairy-tale world of strange animals, and a prince and princess destined for each other but caught between competing realms of good and evil. Britain’s Simon McBurney directs it very well indeed in this fresh and intelligent production for the Dutch National Opera.

The design is contemporary, without a fixed set (no temple for Sarastro), but using space, and the movement of the chorus and actors who populate it very effectively. Costumes are contemporary, with a fair spattering of the usual back-of-the wardrobe items all theatres possess. Sarastro in his overcoat looks as if he is just come in, while Tamino swaps a tracksuit top for a camouflage jacket so he is ready for his combat against dark forces. Papageno looks as if he got dressed in the dark, the only indications of his bird-catching trade being what one assumes to be the streaks of bird droppings he has not had time to remove. All the characters though are well directed and act convincingly, relating to each other rather than the pit. One is never aware of them looking for conductor’s cues, but the ensemble is very tight nonetheless.

There many nice directorial touches. I especially liked the fact that Tamino is given not only a magic flute, but also a flautist to play it for him, thus evading the unconvincing pretend flute playing Taminos sometimes display. Papageno’s birds are impersonated by black-clad actors flicking pieces of paper in flight-like motion (more effective than it sounds). The three boys are old and stooped, their wisps of hair recalling Yoda of Star Wars. The use of a stage floor with a central portion that can be hoisted out to add a level, gauze curtains and shrewd lighting, video projection, puppetry and other elements of stagecraft all add up to a convincingly dramatic presentation. This is taut, precise, ensemble theatre, with no hint of operatic convention, so that this strange old tale is told with renewed authority.

None of that would matter if the singers and instrumentalists were not top class, and they are. This cast would grace any leading opera house. They are uniformly good at putting the characters across, as well as offering fine singing. Schmitt’s Tamino has the grace and power for that taxing tenor role, and the top notes of the Queen of the Night (Martinez), and the bottom ones of Sarastro (Sheratt), register perfectly, as does the rest of their vocal ranges. If there is one musical highlight, so enchanting I watched it again as the sort of instant encore a disc permits, it is the Act 1 duet for Papageno (Oliemans) and Pamina (the delightful and vocally outstanding Landshamer). The opera is conducted with brisk but flexible tempi by Marc Albrecht, who on this showing is a very stylish Mozartian, and the Netherlands Chamber Opera play superbly for him. This would be a valuable Magic Flute even as a sound-only disc. The blu-ray recording is splendid, visually and sonically. This now probably replaces my previous favourite Magic Flute on blu-ray, which was the Colin Davis account with its very fine, Royal Opera House production, though that BBC Opus Arte disc might still be preferred if you insist on a more traditional staging.

Roy Westbrook



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