Die Zauberflote(or The Magic Flute) is a great opera with some of Mozart's best music especially. This Salzburg performance is definitely worth watching, in fact I'd say it's one of the better Zauberflotes I've seen, and I am very fond of the 2003 production with Damrau and Keenlyside and the Bergman film. Jean Pierre Ponnelle was an always interesting stage director and costume and set designer. This is no exception. The slightly old-fashioned but very elegant costumes and sets are still there, with the large stone-arched semicircular interior and the ornate Baroque gowns for the Queen of the Night and the three ladies particularly impressive.
The lighting is very daring, especially the 15-foot high shadows in the Two Armoured Men scene. Musically it is wonderful, with a well balanced chorus, stylish orchestral playing and while James Levine takes the tempo a tad too fast in Ah Ich Fuhl he shows he is a sympathetic and thoughtful conductor with an understanding for Mozart's style. Ponnelle's staging reinforces why he was such a thoughtful and interesting opera director, finding solutions to staging problems such as trying to differentiate Monastatos from the abused people when the bells are rung and what the Initiates do before a meeting awaiting their leader.
Salzburg's Die Zauberflote has an excellent cast, with the singing ranging from good to fantastic and the acting mostly effective with Ponnelle's emphasis on motivation and ease of movement shining through. Christian Boesch as Papagaeno the standout. He has a good if not powerful voice, and acts with a lot of charm and energy. His duet with Gudrun Sieber(very good) is a hoot, with a brisk tempo, great chemistry and a sense of comic timing.
As well as Boesch, there were two other standouts. One was the Queen of the Night of Edita Gruberova, who is much better here than in the 1983 Munich performance, with a much more imperious presence, more agility in the colouratura and she hits her high notes more effortlessly, in the other performance they seemed too restrained. She could have been more musical though, she can have a tendency to be too inexpressive vocally. Der Halle Rosche was good, but O Zitt'e Nicht, Mein Lieber Sohn is a knockout.
The other was Martti Talvela. His voice may have thinned due to illness, though O Isis Und Osiris has a lot of resonance and there are intonation problems in some of his lower passages particularly in In Diesen Heil'gen Hallen. However his top is still gleaming, he is an imposing figure which is perfect for such a noble figure such as Sarastro and his legato and phrasing are marvellous.
Peter Schreier sings beautifully with a lyrical tone and some wonderful moments of melting pianissimo singing such as in the Temple scene in Act 1. Like a number of Taminos I've seen in the role, he is rather stiff on the other hand. Ileana Cotrubas is a poignant Pamina and her singing is lovely. She is more involved than Schreier but does interact very well with him and even better with Boesch and particularly Talvela. While her tone and musicality were very pleasing and her presence was affecting, Ah Ich Fuhl was taken too fast and even then she pushes so the aria wasn't as moving as it should be.
I loved the Three Ladies, commanding, imperiously chilling and beautifully blended. Edda Mosser I especially liked. The three boys are charming and sing well if not always in tune with one another, the third boy I think had moments of flatness. Walter Berry is excellent as the Speaker, so good in fact you'd wish there was more of him. I wasn't crazy though about Monostatos, I do often find the character overplayed and he is here, but Horst Heistermann's singing was almost like he wasn't singing at all, and his wobble is so wide that you not only cannot determine what note he's singing but you can drive various vehicles through it.
All in all, a great and very interesting production. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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