on 18 January 2008
This Magic Flute (part of the M22 project) is charming and delightful, a sheer joy. It achieves just the right balance between the fairytale and spiritual elements of the singspiel and is brimming with inventiveness. The bright pop-up-book colours and toyshop imagery perfectly represent the pantomime aspect of this "magic opera" which meshes well with the altogether more serious business of Sarastro's realm of Enlightenment wisdom. I love the burlesque touches which occur throughout and the comic scenes around Papageno which make this such a happy and constantly droll performance.
The staging is visually striking. I love the day-glo skies and the moving mountains which glide across the stage, cleverly creating different acting areas. And the Three Ladies got up as Tyrolean hill walkers. Indeed almost all the new images which appear as the story unfolds bring a smile to the lips and create new pleasure in seeing this imaginative and clever stage-craft work its magic.
I don't understand the use of `primitive' quasi-African statues. The accompanying booklet suggests we are in a world of venerable ideas "with their roots thousands of years in the past" as much as the world of 18th century Enlightenment. It also suggests that much of the imagery is supposed to be childlike. I could imagine a child painting something like these messy totems, and they don't look particularly out of place in this production.
The cast is exceptionally strong. Paul Groves is a suitably heroic, noble and sympathetic Tamino; particularly strong in his more impassioned `romantic' moments. Genia Kühmeier is a gorgeous Pamina, everything she sings sublime. When she's singing it's difficult to focus anywhere else. She has superb vocal control and real beauty in her sweet moments, and can also produce strong and forceful singing without any loss to her refinement of tone. A magical performance.
René Pape oozes charisma and tremendous presence as Sarastro, a powerful and authoritative High Priest. Christian Gerhaher is a charming and energetic Papageno with a great comic touch. (I must say, though, that he should have had more than one feather stuck in his hair - several lines of dialogue are rendered meaningless otherwise. But that's hardy his fault). He's a strong, characterful baritone with stylish musicianship (see his "Mann und Weib..." duet with Pamina). His "Pa-pa-pa-pa" scene is quite delightful.
The stunning coloratura Diana Damrau is a real star with extraordinary vocal control in her more pyrotechnically frenzied moments and brilliantly acted throughout: as the heart-broken mother of Act I who faints into Tamino's arms at "Ach helft! Ach helft!" as she tells despairingly of her daughter's abduction; all spitting rage, malevolence and vengeful fury in the fearsome Act II "Der Hölle Rache". This is forceful, note-perfect singing of the highest order. (Sadly she has now officially "retired" this role from her repertoire.) She also gets the best frocks - only right for a Queen - which, from a distance (which is, after all, where the audience is) - look like they're made of feathers. Which would explain why she employs Papageno.
Riccardo Muti conducts the ever-wonderful VPO at a good pace and with a transparency that brings out the finest touches of orchestral detail.
This is an excellent recording, insightful and full of humour. I've watched it several times now and always find myself grinning at its comic creativity. This must be high on the list of preferred Magic Flutes - it's difficult to see how anyone could improve on something nigh on perfection. I strongly recommend it.
on 22 September 2007
Though there are many I prefer ... Covent Carden perhaps the first closely followed by the August Everding and Sweedish film versions, this has a charm in its outlandish sets and inovative differences.
The three boys enter by plane and Papageno (who in my opinion is the weakest in the cast) has a superb little car accompanied by very strange birds. The rest of the cast is good. The Queen of the Night is of course perfection as I have stated in other reviews. Her second aria in this production is very differently staged but equally well performed. She is truly magnificent and the purchase of this disc at a bargain price is worth it alone for just this aria. (It is only for her part in this version that I have to give 4*)
My equally favourite part in the opera is when the three boys persuade Parmina not to kill herself for me in this version it just fails to work especially compared with the delightful snow balling sequence of the Swedish film and the wonderful Wind in the Willows setting of the August Everding setting.
It is 'way out' and it really does work but if you only want one DVD of Magic Flute don't buy this one.
on 28 February 2011
I saw a documentary recording the production of this opera.
I was impressed by the set design. No longer the 18th century costumes, but a design that matched the magical themes of the drama. My wife, Hazel, had been active in opera productions, and was an ardent fan of Mozart; so I was familiar with the music and the plot. But the images of this production were unusual, unconventional,and modern. A joy to behold.