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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) (1791) [169.32]
Martin Summer – (Sarastro)
Yasmin Özkan – (Queen of the Night)
Martin Piskorski – (Tamino)
Fatma Said – (Pamina)
Till von Orlowsky – (Papageno)
Theresa Zisser – (Papagena)
Sascha Emanuel Kramer – (Monostatos)
Philipp Jekal – (First Priest)
Thomas Humer – (Second Priest)
Elissa Huber – (First Lady)
Kristin Sveinsdóttir – (Second Lady)
Mareike Jankowski – (Third Lady)
Moritz Plieger, Clemens Schmid, Raphael Eismayr (soloists of Wiltener
Sängerknaben – (Three Boys)
Francesco Castoro – (First man in Armour)
Victor Sporyshev – (Second man in Armour)
Marcel Herrnsdorf – (First Slave)
Tenzin Chonev Kolsch – (Second Slave)
Thomas Prenn – (Third Slave)
Jorge Abarza Sutter – (Priest)
Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Ádám Fischer
rec. live 21 September 2016 La Scala, Milan
Video director – Roberto Maria Grassi
Picture: 1080i/16.9
Sound: 24/48 LPCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: French, English, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 740504 Blu-ray [173 mins]

I have several Blu-rays of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), but none is more entertaining than this marvellous new 2016 staging at La Scala, Milan. Remarkably all the soloists, chorus and orchestra are students of the Academia Teatro alla Scala, the educational institution, founded in 2001. Here the academy students benefit from the professional expertise of music director Ádám Fischer and celebrated stage director Peter Stein and his creative team, and the results are a credit to all concerned. A critical and public success all ten La Scala performances were sold out with a broadcast given on Arte television.

It was in 1791 that Mozart collaborated with versatile Bavarian impresario Emanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto for Die Zauberflöte. A couple of months before his death Mozart conducted the premičre in September 1791 at Schikaneder’s own Theatre auf der Wieden, Vienna with Schikaneder playing the role of Papageno. The success was such that following its premičre the opera was staged over 230 times in its first ten years at the Theatre auf der Wieden. It is testament to Mozart’s capacity that, at a time towards the end of his life tormented by failing physical and mental health, and mounting debts, he could write music of vital energy, japery and fantasy. Imbued in the libretto are mysterious Freemasonry rituals that directors can choose to emphasize or ignore. There is also a strong omnipresence of death and dying in the text and at the 2013 Baden-Baden Easter Festival stage director Robert Carsen remarked that death is mentioned around 60 times together with 2 suicide attempts.

Stein has presented a rather straightforward production strong on traditional aspects of the original staging. Stein’s vision portrayed Queen of the Night as power-mad and vindictive, and Sarastro who develops as a fountainhead of harmony and wisdom. So crucial to understanding the convoluted plot Stein has retained almost all of the substantial and pertinent spoken dialogue, while several of the Masonic rituals and numerous symbols have been maintained. It seems as if set designer Ferdinand Wögerbauer and costume designer Anna Maria Heinreich have based their designs on Max Slevogt’s marginal sketches. Whatever the inspiration Wögerbauer and Heinreich have excelled providing attractive sets and costumes that have a quality feel and are easy on the eye. Recurring features of Wögerbauer’s set used in various scenes include a reddish coloured mound positioned centre stage which serves to elevate the soloists, a pyramid shaped Temple with a prominent arch on two Greek Ionic columns, a large low altar with a substantial number of yellow pyramid lights, palm trees framing the stage, star filled night sky on backdrop. A suspended cradle is used to transport the three boys impressively through the air. Pleasing on the eye are the admirable animal costumes comprising of large airs of lions and bears, an ostrich and a bear that prowl around Sarastro. Standing out are the impressive looking flames emitted from the helmets of two men in armour. Best of all from the first scene chasing Papageno is the substantial green and yellow radio controlled snake that the three ladies kill by cutting into pieces with their axe spears. Even though I favour a traditional staging disagreeable is seeing Monostatos and eight other men blacked-up by designer Heinreich from head to foot as African natives dressed in grass skirts and black curly wigs as they dance and prowl around. Hard to stomach too are the racist remarks that have been left in the libretto and subtitles. Compared to the costumes of the men the women chorus are plainly dressed in rather dull coloured robes.

Tall and bearded Martin Summer makes a commanding yet benevolent Sarastro wearing a beige alb with matching headdress and a large octagram shaped gold medallion on thick chain. Summer exhibits immaculate diction and his projection is reasonably strong, however, a touch disappointing is his often uneven tone. Wearing similar vestments and octagram shaped broaches the 18 strong group of priests each carry palm leaves. As the first and second priests Philipp Jekal and Thomas Humer perform capably and with commitment.Making the most of her opportunity as Pamina, Fatma Said blessed with stunning looks is dressed in a low cut, sleeveless, floor length gown in brilliant white communicating the customary innocence of the character. Said creates an enchanting atmosphere and is in admirable voice revealing a lovely bright timbre that projects well together with clear enunciation. Martin Piskorski as the engagingly handsome flute carrying hero Tamino is decked out in Princely status with a magnificent red flock coat adorned with gold and green braid over a white blouse. On this evidence the bearded Piskorski is set for a flourishing career, excelling with his solid and deceptively weighty voice which is clear and appealing in tone.

Yasmin Özkan as Queen of the Night has her startling appearances accompanied by thunder and lightning. Wearing a glass diamond studded headdress with silver tentacles and dressed in a sparkly, low cut, dark blue gown, black cloak and veil not surprisingly Özkan’s clothing and figure all look black in the dim lighting. At present Özkan’s voice sounds undeveloped for the Queens’s challenging showpiece arias. In the celebrated coloratura display passages there is expressive strain and unsteadiness in her bright voice which together with its warbling vibrato makes for a rather uncomfortable listen with repeated listening. Carrying a number of cages, a box with magic bells, pan-pipes and a roll of red rope at various times, bird catcher Papageno played by Till von Orlowsky wears the traditional outfit of a suit of feathers finished off with a red head crest and tail feathers. A youthful and lithe Papageno the baritone shines in a role he could have been playing for years. Orlowsky’s poised performance and stage craft reminded me of seeing distinguished international baritone Christian Gerhaher play Papageno so successfully in the 2006 Salzburg Festival production by Pierre Audi and Brian Large. Theresa Zisser as Papagena also wears a suit of feathers with a red head crest but green tail feathers. This is a promising debut by the unruffled Zisser who I look forward to seeing in a larger role soon.

Sascha Emanuel Kramer gives a downright creepy portrayal of Monostatos singing his act 2 aria well whilst dancing lecherously around the sleeping Pamina. Marvellously co-ordinated in both moves and voice the 3 ladies Elissa Huber, Kristin Sveinsdóttir and Mareike Jankowski each wear different coloured corsets with short puffball skirts. Using the dark veils on their headdresses they annoyingly cover and uncover their faces far too often and for no good reason. Demonstrating how entertainingly the 3 ladies can be played I fondly recall the exceptional performance by experienced international performers Annick Massis, Magdalena Kožená and Nathalie Stutzmann at the 2013 Baden-Baden Easter Festival. Singing and acting with immense gusto they virtually stole the show with their comedy antics in the Robert Carsen production. The angelic looking three boys also known as child-spirits are well coached by chorus master Johannes Stecher and immediately gain audience approbation. Under the conducting of the enthusiastic Ádám Fischer the student orchestra plays quite superbly throughout and the academy chorus sings enthusiastically with taut unity.

Included in the accompanying booklet are a detailed track listing, an essay The Magic Flute at the Scala - Faithful and Refreshing by Karina Seligman, a most helpful synopsis and several black and white production photographs. No problems whatever with the stereo and surround sound options that have clarity and are well balanced. Roberto Maria Grassi’s video direction is excellent with a reasonable variety of shots ensuring the eye doesn’t tire, although some additional close-ups wouldn’t go amiss. Adding to the atmosphere is some back-stage footage of the principals and chorus preparing for the production shown on screen during the overture. Sadly there are no bonus videos of interviews with the principals and Stein’s creative team.

This captivating Peter Stein production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) from La Scala, Milan is magical entertainment on C Major.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dave Billinge (Recording of the Month)



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