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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)  
Die Zauberflöte, K620 (1791)
Pamina, Christiane Karg (soprano); Tamino, Mauro Peter (tenor); Papageno, Adam Plachetka (baritone); Sarastro, Matthias Goerne (bass); Queen of the Night, Albina Shagimurotava (soprano); Papagena, Maria Nazarova (soprano); Speaker, Tareq Nazmi (bass); Monostatos, Michael Porter (tenor); 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 749804 [148 mins]

Sitting nicely on one Blu-ray as opposed to the two DVDs Robert Farr reviewed last year, with a cast to die for (on paper) and one of the world’s finest orchestras in the pit, this Salzburg production of Mozart’s esoteric fairy-tale should have been a sure-fire hit. It stands as testament, instead, as to what havoc an interventionist director and an inconsistent conductor can let rip on Mozart’s cherished masterpiece.

Certainly Masonry seems to have little or nothing to do with this particular initiatory journey. Instead, steampunk and the commedia dell’arte take over. The opera is set in uncertain times, so on that level at least it is a performance for our current situation. Here, it is Vienna, just prior to World War I, that provides the setting. The dramatic focus is shifted as we move in and out of a fairy-tale world, anchored by a narrator who reads the story in various “chapters” each with its own title (“Taminos Rettung” for example); here, it is the three boys who are pretty much omnipresent. The characters of the story then appear on stage to enact the plot.

The circus suspended hoops that accompany “Ein Weibchen oder Mädchen” simply detract from the music. Sarastro is more like a circus owner than an illumined leader. He is, here, Matthias Goerne, though, so there are vocal compensations; his voice is like richest hot chocolate. The Two Armed Men are just two blokes singing a cantus firmus, one smoking a pipe. The procession of children in prams is another distraction over a rather awkward Papagena/Papageno duet in Act 2. There is an armchair narrator (the excellent Klaus Maria Brandauer) taking the place of the linking dialogue, and with the Three Boys’ roles massively increased as the whole shebang is seen as a fantasy, the idea consistently trips over its own cleverness. The Narrator is there, presumably, to constantly ground the work, to remind us that it is a story; he also talks over the music on several occasions. It is difficult to hear and see it as the allegory it is, though.

There is luxury casting here, for sure. Albina Shagimuratova basically owns the role, although in fairness she is not at her finest (dressed up with horns in place, although they could conceivably refer to Orpheus’ lute? Or even Brünnhilde’s helmet). Certainly there is no hanging about in “O zittre nicht,” which feels a little rushed and harbours one of the rare instances when the orchestra is not absolutely on the ball.

Goerne and Christiane Karg hardly need any introduction. The fact that Karg is dressed up as a rather ramshackle doll (while Pamino is an animated toy soldier) rather detracts from what we actually hear; even when she ascends the heights of pure loveliness in “Ach, ich fühl’s” - and talking of heights, never have I heard her sing so high and pure.

Adam Plachetka’s Papageno is more than adequate, less than memorable, although his “Vogelfänger” is well sung; it is matched by Maria Nazarova’s Papagena. As Tamino, Mauro Peter is one of the finer cast members; his “Pamina retten,” even harbouring the odd decoration, is delicious. But “Dies Bildnis” is comatose, and then gets even slower as a cadence appears. There is no disguising the beauty of both the Vienna strings and Plachetka’s voice, but this feels like woefully distended Mozart.

The three Ladies of the Night sing beautifully, although those who know the score, which is pretty much all of MusicWeb’s readership, will be surprised and possibly outraged at the insertion of narration into the three Ladies’ opening scene over the prostate Tamino and this is hardly the only occurrence of such an intrusion on Mozart’s music.

With the VPO in the pit, things should be in safe hands. And indeed, the articulation in the Overture is fabulous, particularly from the strings. While the VPO maintain their beauty of sound throughout, the conductor, Constantinos Carydis, can be capricious with his speeds, rushing his fences in orchestral codas frenetically and for no good reason. No-one can take away that beautiful Vienna sound, but it has to be put to good use, and that aspect is questionable in this instance. Allegedly, the score used was that of the Neue Mozart Ausgabe, but the performance adds modern piano and organ and, as we have seen, plays fast and loose with Mozart.

Not really a success then - not really Mozart, either, it could be argued.

Colin Clarke

Previous review (DVD): Robert Farr

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