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Maybe it's just that I've been watching absolute junk versions of this
opera in my quest to find a DVD of it I actually wanted to buy, but
this production left me feeling very, very happy. I'd have to say that,
out of the Magic Flute DVDs I've seen, this is my favorite--and I'm
including Ingmar Bergman's version in that statement.
While it's very clear that this is a documentation of a stage production (evidenced especially by the applause after each aria), it's still very well done. I'm not saying that this is cinematic gold--there's only so much even a great cameraman can do with a stage production--but the camera angles are sensible and manage to capture all the action (unlike Bergman), and enough closer shots are used that we feel as if we have front row seats.
The singing is good across the board, and if the acting falls a bit flat or goes a bit too far every now and then, we ought to remind ourselves that these are opera singers, not film actors. The sets are dynamic and detailed, and the costumes are fairly traditional, even if Papageno has less feathers than he did back in Mozart's day. It's a joy to see such a good, solid production, and I would recommend this as a good starting point for someone new to the opera.
Note to IMDb editors: Jan-Hendrik Rootering's role is NOT, as you have
listed it, "Narrator". He plays a real character, and his character is
called "Speaker of the Temple", or just "Speaker", or sometimes, "An
Old Priest". He does not narrate and he does not speak (so "Speaker" is
misleading in this regard); he SINGS recitatif ("recitatif" means not
an aria nor set-piece, but operatically-sung dialog, punctuated with
chords and occasional riffs from the orchestra.)
His character is critical to the plot: he is the one who first tells Tamino that Sarastro is a good-guy, not an evil demon. He also tells Tamino that women are not trustworthy, and thereby begins Tamino's conversion to the masculine religion of Sarastro and the Temple of Wisdom. This is key, because the women represent Catholicism, which (according to this opera) mankind must pass through and eventually destroy, in order to achieve enlightenment and become good rationalistic Freemasons like Mozart and Schickenaeder. Sarastro and his Priests represent Freemasons; Freemasons saw themselves as contemporary counterparts to the Egyptians who designed the Pyramids, realizing geometric principles in the real world, thereby making "the Earth into a Heavenly kingdom, and mortals like the gods."
So please, change the cast-list to show that Rootering's character is "Speaker of the Temple of Wisdom" or just "Speaker" or "An Old Priest." Not "Narrator".
Thanks, from me and from other MAGIC FLUTE junkies!
UPDATE, August 2017: Aha, I see you have made the adjustment. Thanks!
Now, a review:
This is a magnificent performance, both visually and musically, in too many ways to list. I'll just mention a few points:
1. The lesser roles--the Three Ladies, the priests and Armed Men, Monostatos, the Speaker of the Temple, Papagena, etc. are filled by first-rate singing actors. Celebrity value is added by the presence of elderly long-time veteran Kurt Böhme, who was first recorded singing in this opera in 1941! Here he has a speaking-only role as the priest who berates Papageno for being such a schnook.
2. Kurt Moll was the preeminent Sarastro in the 1980s and 1990s. No one else in those decades had his special combination of mellow, golden tone, extreme range (especially the low range), vocal heft, and musicality. (Well, there was one less well-known almost-equally good bass: the great Hans Sotin.) Visually and dramatically, Kurt Moll is benevolent but unsettling, like Aslan in the Narnia books: so noble and virtuous that he makes you uneasy about how virtuous YOU are. No surprise that James Levine cast him in his videoed performance at the Met several years later.
3. Lucia Popp, besides being an outstanding musician, has the unusual gift of being able to make herself sound, and act, like a little girl. This is an absolute requirement for the role of Pamina; too many Paminas have the musicality and vocal ability but sound like mature women. Kathleen Battle, for instance, fails miserably in the little-girl department. (The love between Pamina and Tamino is supposed to be more like when kindergarten-age children say they have "boyfriends" or "girlfriends" than like a grown-up relationship.)
4. WEAKNESSES of this performance include Edita Gruberova's Queen: she's fine musically but not a great actress and no fun to look at, and Wolfgang Brendel's vulgar, unappealing Papageno. Francisco Ariza's performance as Tamino is workmanlike and reasonably sincere but not remarkable.
5. Sets and costumes by August Everding are traditional and very beautiful.
6. The short duet just before the Act 2 Quintet, where two priests warn Tamino and Papageno to beware of women's tricks, is cut.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Out of the operas Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote, I have always
considered Die Zauberflote(the Magic Flute) to be his masterpiece,
though I love Don Giovanni and Le Nozze Di Figaro as well. Die
Zauberflote has been special to me, since I performed in the chorus at
16, and loving every minute of it. Now one year on, it never ceases to
The 1983 production, directed by August Everding, looks wonderful, nothing too fancy, but has lovely costumes and sets- the serpent was certainly very menacing, and the Fire and Water scene was in particular well staged. I don't really need to detail how much I love Mozart's score, but I will do so anyway, from the rousing overture, the Birdcatcher's song, the Act 1 quintet, the heart rending solo arias Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schon and Ah ich fuhl, the spine chilling queen of the Night aria, the haunting Isis and Osiris chorus, the hilarious Papagaeno Papagaena, to the powerful finale, it is a feast for the listener. The orchestra was excellent, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, and in general the singing is very good.
However, there are flaws with this production, I am afraid to say. First was Francisco Araiza, his voice was far too heavy for the role of Tamino, and I was surprised when he sang softly, shame he didn't do it more often. The moment when he did sing softly would have been completely ruined if he hadn't done so, for that is a very poignant moment. Another was Ah ich fuhl, Lucia Popp sang beautifully and was very expressive, but it is meant to be a lament, and a heart rending one at that, it was conducted way too fast, and it came across as rather cold, despite the gorgeous melody. Edita Gruberova disappointed too, she was imperial looking and everything, if only she reached those high notes, I couldn't hear them much at all. Yes, I accept she was trying not to force it, but queen of the Night wasn't as spine chilling as she is meant to be. The acting side also appeared rather basic, particularly with Queen of the Night and Tamino.
On the other hand, there are some pluses. Lucia Popp was stunning as Pamina, perhaps too old, but her singing was gorgeous. Wolfgang Brendel does overdo the role of Papagaeno once or twice, but he did get a number of laughs, from me that is, and he had a lovely presence. Kurt Moll gave a performance of nobility and firmness, apparent in both voice and facial expression. The ensemble performances were great. The chorus was fine, particularly the men, though they did tend to just stand there and look unanimated. The three ladies were excellent, very resonant in tone, and very rhythmic with each other. And the three boys? A huge surprise, what beautiful angelic voices.
Overall, a flawed production, but lovely to watch. 8/10 Bethany Cox
Schikaneder's en Mozart's fairytale about love, trust and religion is
layered with humor, death, adventure, and unconditionally loving. The
opera has been popular right from the start in 1791. It's more a play
with songs -like My Fair Lady (or, to stay in opera-lingo: Die
Entführung aus dem Serail). The libretto is good although Schikaneder's
dialogs are not that time-resistant; they do sound a bit
over-explanation-like (if that's a word). They deserve a good
dramatizer to bring those dialogs into this century.
August Everding made the scenery and did a good job -a bit too good. Sometimes less is more, and here is a case where that's true. The massive set pieces look wonderful but take over much of the energy of the cast and Everding should have realized that. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts and does a OK job. Nothing too spectacular -I think he was in a hurry to get the last train home; I found the tempi a bit fast.
The cast. Well. Start with the good one's: Lucia Popp is (although already 43) a very good Pamina: she's very much in character and sings beautiful but "Ach, ich füll's" (Pamina's heart-breaking aria), was conducted so fast that I missed the sadness and despair. But she can act (could, Popp died much too young...). Wolfgang Brendel is OK as Papageno, his energy fills the huge stage and that's always nice to see. He's on the edge of over-acting but it's very difficult where the concentration lies for singers: with the life-audience or the film-camera's; those two disciplines have their own techniques -it's hard to combine them, of course. But his presence is lovely on stage.
And that's about it. Gudrun Sieber's Papagena is charming but her role's to small to make a lasting impression. Kurt Moll's Sarastro: good, deep Basso but no acting skills at all. And I don't think he's friendly -In my opinion Sarastro should be a friendly guy! Francisco Araiza (Tamino) think he's in a Donizetti-production: everything is fortissimo. In the finale of act I, he suddenly surprises me by almost whispering his recitative and I am touched by this. So he can do it! So why start so late?
I was disappointed by Edita Gruberova's Königin der Nacht (Queen of the Night) -she did not get those high notes. Believe me: she did not. Her high Q was a mere whisper and her acting is nothing spectacular either. Sorry Edita. Must have been strange for Popp as she used to be famous for singing that role. And of course the QOTN is an overrated role as she only sings two little numbers and plays one scene; that's it.
In general it's a nice thing to watch -but I was annoyed with the mishaps as I wanted to be invited into a fantasy world. And I should have as the music brought tears to my eyes in several scenes.
Mozart could write music!
A huge, old-school operatic production mounted for the Mozart-partizan
audience of Salzburg. As a dramatic, on-screen experience, it's pretty
lame. This is partly to do with the music/singer-centric staging where
design and dramatic detail are subordinate concerns. For example, the
animals charmed by Tamino's first outing for the flute look like mangy,
rejected extras from Planet of the Apes. Indeed, watching the opening
10 minutes without sound you would be forgiven for thinking you were
watching a potted version of Wagner's Siegfried, so stock are the sets,
costumes and blocking.
The singing is fine, if a little indulgent. The filming is OK, with some good close-ups but the video director has his priority in validating the audience's exclusivity. There are shots of the auditorium not only during curtain calls but also during the performance itself. Essentially it's a document of a stage performance which loses almost everything as an artistic experience-in-itself by being brought to the screen. 3/10
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