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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)  
Die Zauberflöte, K620 (1791)
Pamina, Christiane Karg (sop); Tamino, Mauro Peter (ten); Papageno, Adam Plachetka (bar); Sarastro, Matthias Goerne (bass); Queen of the night, Albina Shagimurotava (sop); Papagena, Maria Nazarova (sop); Speaker, Tareq Nazmi (bass); Monostatos, Michael Porter (ten); Three ladies, Ilse Eerens, Paula Murrihy, Genevieve King.
Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Constantinos Carydis
Stage Director, Lydia Steier, Set Designer, Katharina Schlipf. Costume Designer, Ursula Kudrna
Lighting Director, Olaf Freeze
Video Designers, fettFilm
rec. live, August 2018, Salzburg Festival
Filmed in High Definition 16:9
Sound formats: PCM Stereo. DTS 5.0
Subtitles in German (original language), English, French, Korean and Japanese.
C MAJOR 749708 [2 DVDs: 148 mins]

With the death of the relatively enlightened Emperor Joseph II, who had commissioned Così fan tutte and perhaps 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 small Theater auf der Wieden with its tradition of spoken dialogue and productions for the populace, rather than that of the Court, at which the Da Ponte operas had been aimed. The two men had resumed their friendship when Schikaneder returned to Vienna in 1789 and they shared the fellowship of the same Masonic Lodge. Schikaneder was also the impresario of the Theater auf der Wieden. This was a popular, as distinct from a grand, theatre, holding around one thousand. It mounted productions featuring elaborate machinery, live animals, spectacular lighting and scenic effects. These were often interspersed with topical jokes in the local patois and songs to suit an unsophisticated audience.

Various sources have been suggested for the basis of Schikaneder’s libretto with much discussion of the relationship of the trials undergone by Tamino and Pamina, and the triumph of good over evil, to the Masonic background of composer and librettist. The Masonic influence is also suggested by the frequent occasions on which the number three occurs in the opera, as this number is said to be significant in Freemasonry. Certainly it occurs with the Three Ladies and Three Boys as well as in the musical structure. What really destroys this argument for the work being a Masonic allegory is the fact that there are only two trials, of fire and water. If there were any Masonic allusions it would be to the three steps and trials an initiate has to undergo at their elevation in The Craft.

Looking through recordings, audio and visual, of Die Zauberflöte and the Saltsburg Festival, the two seem tied by an eternal knot. Names crop up such as Talvela and Cotrubas, which most opera lovers will recognise. The 2011 production, set vaguely in the post Second World War period, featured the work in a rather mechanistic manner with Harnoncourt on the rostrum laying a heavy hand on matters. This time around, The Festival imported an American Director, Lydia Steier, along with a conductor, Constantinos Carydis, both debutants at the prestigious Festival. Her approach seemed to be intent on breaking moulds such as pervaded the 2011 production, and determined to make the show more child-orientated. Needless to say, this meant some updating, mostly of costume. To this end she used the vast stage in a multi-level design by set designer Katharina Schlipf, utilising vertical and horizontal sections that could be quickly moved. She also used more contemporary costumes than usual, something like nineteen twenties or thirties, not, however, in everyday terms for all roles, but in what might be termed fairy-tale forms particularly for Pamina and Queen of the Night. This meant that Adam Plachetka as Papageno was costumed in a rather formal style, complete with a bow tie that looked incongruous on his large physical frame, whilst the Sarastro of Matthias Goerne was in a matching two-piece suit. In contrast, the Pamina of Christiane Karg and the Queen of the Night were costumed more in fairy tale mode.

The set opens with a domestic scene of the family of the Three Boys having supper before their mother has a fit of the vapours and they and grandfather retire whilst he sets to read them a story in which they become participants. The renowned actor Klaus Maria Brandauer takes the spoken role of the father. The familiar story of Mozart’s opera is bent to accommodate this approach with some relatively minor excursions from sequence and familiarity, but not to the extent that they pervert the story to which Mozart lent his genius.

Whilst Constantinos Carydis’ tempi are a little frenetic at the start, he settles down to a stable and sensible interpretation that serves the singers and Mozart well. The singing cast is of no great distinction, or is it that I am too influenced by many previously recorded casts in this work and particularly from this location and event? Of the singing cast, Christiane Karg, as Pamina is the most notable, with a neat balance between variety of tone and meaningful expression in her interpretation. Why she fancies Mauro Peter’s woodenly acted and variably sung Tamino defeats me - lack of competition, I guess! Neither Adam Plachetka’s physically rather bulky bird catcher, nor Matthias Goerne strikes vocal gold either, whilst Albina Shagimurotava Queen is effortful in the highest coloratura notes. In the minor parts of Papagena and Monostatos, Maria Nazarova and Michael Porter are more vocally appealing, and good actors too although the production makes little of the Papageno-Papagena scene.

In summary, neither the singing cast nor the staging adds to the long list of available alternatives sufficiently to tempt me to purchase this latest edition from a renowned Mozartian source.

Robert J Farr

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