Die Zauberflote has always been one of my favourites, especially for Mozart's magnificent music. This Zauberflote from is one of the best I've seen of this opera alongside the 2003 production and the Bergman film, and is one of my absolute favourite performances of any of Mozart's work. It is wonderful visually and staging-wise. The costumes and sets are traditional, but also very creative and fairy-tale-like with a Papagaeno costume that actually looks as though it is made of feathers, only Gedda's wig is not so good, and Peter Ustinov's direction ranks alongside Ponnelle's work for the 1982 Salzburg performance as the best directed Zauberflote I have seen.
He solves the problem with the characterisation of Monostatos and stays true to Mozart's solemnity and comedy. The picture quality is slightly grainy in spots, but the camera work, lip-synching and sound are good and don't hide the fact that the music is so wonderful and the cast the single best cast for any Zauberflote for any I've seen. The orchestra are superb, powerful and stylish yet with moments of beauty too. The strings are occasionally a touch too strident but otherwise I had no problem with the performance musically. Horst Stein's conducting is involved, brisk without being broad, sympathetic without plodding. The chorus I couldn't fault either, I got goosebumps during the Isis Und Osiris chorale.
And what can I say about the cast? In my view, this is a dream cast and a number of them are among the best of their respective roles. Nicolai Gedda is a wonderful Tamino, the second best after Wunderlich. He sings absolutely beautifully, with full-bodied tone and perfect diction. Plus finally we have a Tamino that's not stiff, in fact Gedda is the best acted Tamino I've seen, and actually has nuances in their singing rather than a tenor that sings competently with good technique but sing like they're singing Donizetti or something. Edith Mathis is a real jewel, perhaps my favourite Pamina. She is such an expressive actress, she is radiant and her singing is so creamy. Ah Ich Fuhl is incredibly touching.
William Workman is also one of the finest Papagaenos alongside Simon Keenlyside, Manfred Hemm, Benjamin Luxon and Christian Boesch. He is young, handsome and friendly-faced, with a voice so fresh and charisma so sparkling, not to mention he is a comic gem. Carol Malone is a sweet and witty Papagaeno, I can't tell you how charming their duet together was. Hans Sotin is a superlative Sarastro, firm and noble in stature, and beautiful and warm vocally. The legato and phrasing simply pours out of him. Franz Grundheber as Monostatos manages to be funny and wicked, while never overdoing it.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is a huge surprise and in a good way as the Speaker, much more subtle than his Papagaeno under Bohm. He cuts a commanding, if slightly bemusing, figure on stage too, which always helps. The Three Ladies are well-blended and imperious, and the Three Boys while not always in tune are adorable. The two Armed Men are excellent, especially a young Kurt Moll, himself an outstanding Sarastro.
Not quite as impressive was Cristina Deutekom as Queen of the Night. Don't get me wrong, she is superb vocally, laser-voiced and musically thrilling. It's her acting that let her down, she is much better in the second act, but in her first act aria the camera work betrays the fact that she doesn't move at all. Despite this, this is a brilliant Die Zauberflote and one of the best, perhaps even the best, you will find of this terrific opera. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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