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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Die Zauberflote(The Magic Flute) was one of Mozart's last works and in
my view also one of his best. I don't think I have seen a bad DVD
production of Die Zauberflote actually, but of the productions about my
personal least favourite goes to this one. There are many things to
like, however it is a very problematic production and not an easy one
Most of the musical values are terrific though. The orchestra have style, beauty of tone and power in their playing, while the chorus sing majestically and with good blending. Georg Solti's conducting is enigmatic and very musical, there may be conductors with a more energetic reading of the score(Riccardo Muti comes to mind) but Solti shows even late in his long career that he still has it. Most of the singing is very good too. Rene Pape was the one who stood out, he is noble and subtly commanding as Sarastro and even just over twenty years ago he had a warm and beautiful voice and he still does. Deon van der Walt has a great youthful ring to his voice with some signs of nuance and he is appealing enough, though his acting is little more than running around. The three boys are also very good, they sound like angels and are very sweet and sincere.
A couple of things were good but could also have been better. Luciana Serra's Queen of the Night is superbly sung with a bright agile sound, spot on top notes and solid as rocks colouratura technique. Anton Scharinger as Papagaeno is sung with a warm and hearty sound and there is some nice sly diction delivery. Unfortunately for these two they are let down by the stage direction. Serra's acting is very stand and deliver and while she looks imperious in stature she acts anything but on stage. That is a shame because the 1991 Met performance sees Serra being a wholly capable actress, so I'm putting it down here to lacklustre stage direction. It's pretty much the same for Scharinger, who is charming and vocally great but isn't very funny, the staging for him is either dull or he is made to mug. The three ladies have great voices but don't always blend, they are also very unmotivated and do a lot of traffic patterning and very little else.
The costumes are a mixed bag. The priests, Sarastro and Papagaeno's costumes look good and work fine. Serra however is completely swamped by her costume and van der Walt is dressed in rags that make him look from as far away from masculine as you could go. The make-up and such are not much better, the red marks on Tamino's head just looked ridiculous. The sets are not the most beautiful or inspired but are good enough and not what I call ugly. It did take far too long though for scenes to change and we as a home audience didn't need to see them. The lighting is disappointing, very dark so that you can only just about see, if you're lucky, what's happening and some performers especially Serra and the Three Ladies that are made to look like ghosts, contrasting their costumes with the backdrops they're working against.
Ruth Ziesak's Pamina unfortunately left me cold, and that is including in Pamina's beautiful Ach Ich Fuhls. She is rather remote as an actress, and her voice is not one that really floats in a radiant sense, a lot of it is shrill instead. The sound is not as sharp as it could be either, as well as the orchestra play they should have been much more prominent-sounding. The stage direction is quite possibly the weakest thing about the production, a lot of it is uneventful and lacking in intimacy and drama, so while I found much to like musically(mainly) I never found myself engaged by the story. Overall, has good and bad things and quite a difficult production to rate. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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