This is a charming production of one of Mozart's finest operas. As far as the Drottingholm Mozart productions go, this is not as good as the Idomeneo and La Finta Giardiniera productions, but it is superior to the production of the interesting but flawed Le Nozze Di Figaro. I do think this production is deserving of a better DVD though, the sound is not awful, actually it is quite good despite a few moments where it's soft grained, but the picture quality needed more clarity.
I liked the sets and costumes having said that, they are not only imaginative and interesting but they also make the production one of the more intimate-looking Zauberflotes. The music is typical Mozart, simply magnificent throughout, I was taken with how powerfully on period instruments the orchestra played and how well balanced the chorus were. Arnold Ostman's conducting is often exciting, if sometimes having a tendency in taking things a little too quickly particularly in the overture, which was impressively played but a tad lacking in character.
As for the performances, they are very impressive, and it helps that the characters are engaging human-beings rather than fairy-tale clichés. Though I had mixed feelings on Birgit Louise Frandsen, Magnus Khyle and the Three Boys. Frandsen is dramatically good, making Queen of the Night a distraught mother as well as a creepy-looking villainess, it's just that vocally it wasn't always very pleasant with a somewhat wide wobble, and it sounded as though she was attempting to sing the colouratura rather than nailing it. Sorry but even the fast speeds couldn't hide that most of her colouratura was smudgy and strained.
The Three Boys are suitably impish, sing beautifully if a little too mature and blend well. I just couldn't get over the fact that the Three Boys were actually full-grown women, it takes away from the innocence and purity I get from hearing the Three Boys. Khyle's Monostatos is reliably sung but under-characterised, without overplaying it Khyle could have done with being more broad.
Other than that, I can't fault at all. Ann Christine Biel is a radiant and moving Pamina, with a voice that has musical and very youthful quality to it. Stefan Dahlberg is one of the better Taminos I've seen, his voice is reminiscent of a Heldentenor yet with the nuances needed for the role, and dramatically, apart from the melodramatic sobbing at the end of Ah Ich Fuhl, only Nicolai Gedda in the 1971 Ustinov-directed performance is better.
Laszlo Polgar is a noble and firm Sarastro, with the best voice, one of richness and sturdiness, of the principals, his arias are sung with beautiful legato, dynamic tone and commanding presence. Papagaeno is the character alongside Queen of the Night who almost always steals the show, and while the cast are all great, Mikael Samuelson does indeed do that, as well as being comic, he is lovable and earthy. His duet with witty Papagaena, played with a lot of charm and sung with character and care not to sound too shrill, is a delight. The Three Ladies and Armed Men are formidable.
All in all, a charming production, not my first choice, the 1971 and 2003 performances and the Bergman film are, but worth looking out for. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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