This, one of Karajan's first Mozart opera recordings still shines as brightly
as ever almost fifty years after. Walter Legge's knack of matching a superb
cast with Karajan's uniformly sleek conducting resulted in a miraculous series
of legendary sets that still stand the test of time remarkably well. Although
the producer chose to omit the recitatives, the flowing nature of the music
tends to give a better impression than other complete sets. And here we have
Karajan in full flower, one of the finest conductors of Mozart with such
an inspirational feel for the music's ebb and flow.
We are placed on our toes immediately with a superbly paced Overture that
has the VPO strings playing attacca with remarkable delicacy. Indeed, the
'chamber-like' approach was a novel idea in its day. Anton Dermota's 'Tamino'
is a model of clarity with magnificent command of the role throughout. His
singing in 'Dies Bildnis' is a case in point, graceful, charming and believable.
Irmgard Seefried is also a fine advocate of Pamina with securely rounded
arias and fine participation in the major duets. Erich Kunz' Papageno is
also delightfully vivid and alive with a wonderful 'Bei Mannern' duet with
Seefried that fairly melts one's heart.
This leaves us to Wilma Lipp's 'Queen of the Night'; the central Mozartian
role, which combines all that, is good and bad in this opera. Lipp is remarkable
for her vocal dexterity, outstanding diction and authority in a role that
has always been a central one in Mozart's operas. The chorus is also vivid
enough but I still feel that the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was not always
attuned to Karajan's outstanding perception. As Richard Osborne moots in
his authoritative essay that accompanies a beautifully presented booklet,
the conductor 'breathed life' into an opera that was a bit staidly done in
Legge's auspicious gamble by choosing Karajan instead of Furtwangler, in
this, the most sublime of Moazrt's late operas paid off handsomely and I
would place the set as THE historical companion to set alongside other modern
stereo versions such as Davis and Gardiner. The remastering is also vivid
and clear, lending a new lease of life to the fifty-year-old tapes. It is
also heartening to see the original covers on these reissues and one hopes
that 'Die Zauberflote' has found its permanent home as a Great Recording
of the Century as indeed it is.