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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K620 [173:00]
Martin Summer (Sarastro), Yasmin Özkan (Queen of the Night), Martin Piskorski (Tamino), Fatma Said (Pamina), Till von Orlowski (Papageno), Sascha Emanuel Kramer (Monostatos), Theresa Zisser (Papagena)
Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala/Ádám Fischer
rec. live, 21 September 2016 La Scala, Milan
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Regions ABC: Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese: Booklet English, German, French
Reviewed in surround.
C MAJOR 740504 Blu-ray [173 mins]

On first viewing this top class disc I was tempted to just write "Wow!", but that is not very informative, so I have added another few words. The most important aspect of any operatic performance on disc is the quality of the singing and playing, because this is present even if one just listens, as is the case for most of our domestic music replay. I have to congratulate whoever decided to cast this with students from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala. The accompanying essay states that the soloists, chorus and orchestra are all from this academy but my researches suggest the soloists are recent graduates, but not all from La Scala. This provides yet more evidence that the future of opera is in safe hands from the performance viewpoint, for this is startlingly fine. No allowances of any sort have to be made. This is emphatically as good as it gets. The pit orchestra, directed with boundless enthusiasm by none other than Ádám Fischer sets the pace in an overture of such sparkling vitality and instrumental accuracy that one knows in moments that this is going to be good. The key roles listed above are all magnificently sung and I confidently expect to hear more from Fatma Said (Pamina) and Yasmin Özkan (Queen of the Night), which is not to suggest the others have not also got a bright future. Even the problematic role for three boys is dispatched with professional skill and accuracy by soloists from the Wiltener Sängerknaben without a hint of the usual pitch instability. Many moments in this wondrous score have massive impact: the obvious arias for the Queen of the Night are emotionally quite shocking, the great moments for Tamino are memorable, the more so for the quality of Martin Piskorski's singing, as are those for Fatma Said as Pamina.

As if it was not enough to heap praise on the musicians, I find myself unable to disagree with anything about the staging. Peter Stein is a fine director, but even he has exceeded expectations by paying close attention to what Mozart and Schikaneder asked for, and following their requirements. The set and costume designers have followed suit. Even the German dialogue is taken seriously. The unwary opera lover could assume that all this would lead to something visually unsurprising, if not rather pretty but dull. But no, Stein has not even allowed political correctness to get in the way of what the composer and librettist wanted. I can't remember the last time I saw such a spectacularly 'incorrect' set of Moors as Monastos and his retinue. They are all blacked-up with riotous unconcern for modern sensibilities. This, combined with Schikaneder's misogynist and racist dialogue and libretto, makes this most faithful of reconstruction into a very powerful statement on so many fronts. The presentation of the Masonic and thus Egyptian settings, required by Schikaneder, exposes the Enlightenment challenge that this libretto embodies far more successfully than many a modernisation. The suggestion that the plot is illogical is to overlook the formal structure and the themes running through it, about transitioning from superstition to reason and the sequence of tests on the path from one state to the other, not to mention the many Masonic symbols present. A cursory glance online at articles on Mozart and the Freemasons will throw up countless discussions. The local details of the plot do indeed contain the assumptions of the age about the races of man and the status of the sexes. Presenting these on stage as clearly as Mozart and Schikaneder intended, is to expose a modern audience to the very different social paradigms of an earlier age. A modern production, in contrast, by operating within our cultural norms, as often as not conceals these matters and complicates the plot. This brilliantly directed and performed version of Mozart's late masterpiece is a joy and a challenge; and what a gorgeous piece of music making!

Sound and picture are up to the usual modern standards, as, unfortunately, are the hopeless accessing and indexing. The booklet has a short and interesting essay by the ubiquitous Karina Saligmann, who prefaces her essay with lines from Tamino: "O endless night! When will you pass? When will the light strike my eyes?" The light has certainly struck the eyes of Messrs Stein and Fischer in this outstanding production.

Dave Billinge



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