I have been a big opera enthusiast, and Die Zauberflote ever since singing in the chorus for it two years ago has been a favourite of mine. The story is compelling likewise the characters though I can understand why some of the characterisation can be seen as controversial. Mozart's music is just sublime, I can't think of a single aria or what not I don't like.
There are several very good to excellent performances. This is alongside the 1983 Munich performance with Araiza, Popp, Gruberova, Brendal and Moll one of the very good ones, the excellent ones for me are the Bergman film which has some of the best imagery of any opera film I've seen, the 1982 Salzburg performance with Schreier, Cotrubas, Gruberova, Boesch and Talvela and the 2003 production with Damrau and Keenlyside.
Visually, this Zauberflote looks stunning. The sets are very imaginative and whimsical, if perhaps not extravagant, and give a certain dimension to the performance. The costumes are equally good, with the best being Queen of the Night and Sarastro. The staging is suitably minimalist and really impressive considering that Die Zauberflote is perhaps the most difficult Mozart opera to stage. The best were the staging for Der Halle Roche, which was a vocal and dramatic masterstroke in my view, the witty Papagaeno-Papagaena duet and when Monostatos and his slaves are hypnotised by Papagaeno's Glokenspiel which is really a hilarious sight.
From a musical point of view, this production also impresses. The orchestra play with a clear, rich and well balanced sound with many moments of power, sensitivity and poignancy. The chorus sing with just about the right Masonic flavour, if perhaps rather heavy on the vibrato. James Levine's conducting does come across as clear and sharp especially in the ensembles(lots of authority and purpose) and Der Holle Rache(exciting). There are some scenes that are not quite perfect, the Overture is taken a little too quickly and broadly and Sarastro's two arias and the Isis and Osiris chorale were in real danger of dragging their feet.
The cast are wonderful. Francisco Araiza was the only one that didn't work for me. I like Araiza, he has great physical stature, a beautiful voice and solid technique. But although Tamino is a thankless role in a sense, he is very stolid, he misses a key timing in his first trial and apart from the act 1 temple scene, where his sudden pianissimo just melts the heart and makes you wonder why he didn't do it sooner, I don't find his singing very nuanced, too much Donizetti and not enough Mozart.
Kathaleen Battle fares much better though, very beautiful and moving performance with just the right amount of innocence and wonder. I would have preferred a slower tempo for her Lament Ah Ich Fuhl, but Battle sings very musically and expressively, and her singing throughout is radiant. Papagaena is very witty and charming, Andreas Schmidt's Speaker is warm and forceful in tone and Monostatos is one of the best I've seen, very funny and dramatic with attention to detail and tone, no over-playing or blandness for a change.
Three performances in particular stood out. Manfred Hemm is a truly excellent Papagaeno, although on DVD Boesch comes close Hemm is the only one to come close to my personal favourite Simon Keenlyside. His singing is powerful and lusty, and he is very funny. He may lack Keenlyside's charm just, but the performance was nonetheless great. Luciana Serra's Queen of the Night- a character that is on stage for about twenty minutes or so yet always steals her scenes- is superb vocally, spot-on on every note, ornamentation and blemish, and dramatically riveting, Der Holle Rache is imperiously chilling, and only matched in my opinion by Popp on record and Damrau on DVD.
Kurt Moll to this day is still the best Sarastro I know of. His voice is not as good as it was in the Munich performance, or on his Solti and Davis recordings, but he is still Moll, meaning magnificent. His presence is firm and noble, and less stern than in the Munich performance which is a plus for me, and his singing with his ever resonant basso notes is rich and dynamic if occasionally unsteady with some of the slow speeds. The three ladies are a sheer delight, they have superb timing and accuracy and their harmonising is rock-solid. The three boys are alluring and sing beautifully, especially in their ensemble with Battle.
The videography is interesting and focused though in the Overture I would have liked more shots of the orchestra and a little less of Levine, the picture quality is sharp and the sound has a certain clarity to it. So overall, while not quite perfect, this Zauberflote(Magic Flute) is very good and solid. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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