Although Die Zauberflote is not Mozart's best in terms of story(Le Nozze Di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte I find more convincing in this regard), I adore the music and also the setting. I also have had a soft spot for it since singing in the chorus for a production we did in English three years ago. I don't think this 1964 Salzburg performance is the ultimate Zauberflote, for me that's between the 1971 Ustinov-directed, 2003 Covent Garden and 1982 Salzburg performances. It is still a classic performance with a dream cast.
It does look good visually. The settings are convincing and the costumes are colourful, if not quite as fairy-tale-like as the 1971 production. The black and white is crisp on the whole, and the photography is good. The sound is occasionally a little bright, but overall clear. Otto Schenk's staging is impressive with the Papagaeno-Papagaena duet particularly delightful, and does well to solve the potential problems of the libretto especially with the characterisation of Monostatos. I do think though the scenes with the animals could have done with more imagination though.
Musically, it is really outstanding. The orchestral playing is really beautiful with lots of zest and power, the Overture just brims with character and is beautifully balanced. Istvan Kervetsz's conducting is just superb, I love how he at times restrains the strings allowing the wind instruments to come through the texture. His tempos show a great understanding of the Mozartian style and they are just right, you don't feel that he is trying to catch a train and you're not begging for a steroid shot either. And he has a great sense of phrasing also, the two finales show lines of great elegance. The chorus are as well balanced as the orchestra, there aren't much static or mugged presences which is a good thing, and the Isis Und Osiris Chorale is really moving.
The performances I have little to fault. My favourite of all was the Pamina of Pilar Lorengar. Of the three performances on DVD I've seen of hers, the others being her Elvira for 1961's Don Giovanni and her Elisabetta for 1965's Don Carlos, this is her best one. She sings with a beautiful tone, and is very radiant. Ach Ich Fuhls is full of pathos and moved me to tears, exactly the effect I think the aria should have. I was also taken with Roberta Peters, and feel she is much better here as Queen of the Night than she is in the same role on record under Bohm. The sound is weightier yet more agile, and she plays distraught and fearsome very well, a very commanding performance.
Waldemar Kmett is a wholly credible Tamino, not one of the greats like Wunderlich and Gedda, but he sings with a both heroic and lyric sound and while not the most convincing actor on stage is more nuanced and less stolid than other tenors I've heard and seen in the role(and I'm including Araiza here as well). Walter Kreppel has the basso notes, sustained-legato phrases and the rich tone, as well as the firm presence for Sarastro, though part of me felt he was missing the nobility and benevolence that Sotin, Talvela and especially Moll had. Overall it was a very solid performance with nothing wrong as such but something was missing as well.
As Papagaeno, Walter Berry(one of the main points of interest for me in the first place) is just great, funny, charming and charismatic with a hearty, sonorous voice. His three arias are sung and acted with just the right zest, and his duets with Lorengar and Renate Holm are blended very nicely. Speaking of Holm, this is one delightful Papagaena, characterful and witty with a sweet-toned voice that doesn't fall into the trap of being shrill. Their duet is endearing in all respects.
Renato Ercolani is a more than serviceable Monostatos with good diction and not resorting to a tendency to overplay or under-characterise the potentially problematic role like I've seen in the past. Paul Schoffler makes the most of his time in a vocally strong and surprisingly touching performance as the Speaker. The Three Ladies like the Queen of the Night are imperiously chilling dramatically, and while I would have preferred young boys for the Three Boys, who can complain with Lucia Popp as the First Boy? Not I. The Armed Men are suitably formidable.
Overall, a dream cast and wonderful musical values make this Zauberflote a treasure. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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