An entertaining re-imagining of Mozart's final opera
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 02/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mozart was already ill when The Magic Flute was produced in October 1791. His final opera is really a singspiel or song play, with spoken rather than sung dialog. The libretto, such as it is, was written by Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart's friend and fellow Freemason. He is variously described as an actor, a theatrical entrepreneur and a vaudvillian. Quite a resume! His libretto would have disappeared from history if not for the fact that its score was written by music's most universal genius. The plot involves some Masonic symbolism, some low key magic, a few special effects and lots of low comedy. But mostly it is a paean to conjugal love. I confess that I've never quite understood this strange and confusing libretto, but the music is a paradigm of serene, unearthly beauty. A mere six weeks before his death, Mozart was once again reinventing his art: creating a fusion of Bachian counterpoint with childlike simplicity, the result hinting at the sacred music he might have produced had he lived to be Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
This latest European re-imagining of a classic opera, directed by Martin Kusej and featuring the Chor und Orchester der Oper Zurich conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is a splendid performance that was taped from a live television broadcast. Director Kusej, in the 45 minute bonus behind the scenes film on disc one, complains of "fuddy-duddy performances of opera, such as directed by Zeffirelli." Ouch! His intention to avoid such old-style productions is successful. The set represents a combination of a labyrinth and a modern building lobby. It rotates on the stage while cleverly designed moveable walls constantly produce new shapes so that no architectural space duplicates any other. Props are primarily light industrial and are inventively used. Costumes are modern formal and casualware. It is all deftly done with such a creative flare that it seems to highlight Mozart's glorious music in a magical way. This astute production feels completely organic.
The performances are superb, with splendid singing from the entire cast. The acting is equally exemplary: Ruben Drole as Papageno has an especially apt name for he is often both engagingly funny and touching in a breakout performance. When we first meet him he is trapped in a large bird cage, his sports jacket covered in bird droppings. Matti Salminen offers solemnity and grace as Sarastro. Elena Mosuc is a fine Queen of the Night. Julia Kleiter as a somewhat bewildered Pamina wears a wedding dress for the entire opera, which gets wearisome after a while but she's a trooper, never allowing her performance to suffer. Christoph Strehl is a rather bland but stoic Tamino, the weakest performance in what is a sterling young cast.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, famous for his trailblazing period performances on authentic instruments, leads an orchestra utilizing modern ones. Nevertheless, he manages to remove everything that is musically unnecessary and prosaic, leaving only pristine clarity behind. His many years of experience have so refined his technique that he can make even modern instruments sound authentic in this music. It is a performance in which both singers and instrumentalists often approach perfection while providing moments of such subtle beauty that Mozart would have have nodded in silent approbation. Harnoncourt is the ultimate star of this Magic Flute and he receives the loudest and longest ovation from an appreciative audience. The film was recorded in high-definition and looks it. Sound in both PCM stereo and DTS 5.0 is beautifully lifelike. The strings have a soft, silky sheen while the winds sound especially lovely, with their crystalline intonation, so perfect for Mozart. The two discs run for 226 minutes, including the 45 minute bonus film.
Here, at last, is an example of updating an opera using imagination and skill. That's rare, given the latest trend of shocking an audience into submission. I enjoyed this brilliantly conceived and executed performance, and will revisit it often. Strongly recommended.
Odd, very odd
Mike Birman | 12/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The singing is splendid. Rubin Drole as Papagano is a new and wonderful discovery in the opera universe. The entire set is a dull gray "labryinth". OK, that symbolism is understandable, but would reviewers giving this recording 5 stars please explain why the Queen of the Night enters through a refrigerator?"
The best yet!!!
David M. Calvert-Orange | Yorkshire | 07/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As one who owns 15 different interpretations of this opera I find this one musically the best. Iagree with everything everyone else has said including the fact that Harnoncourt is the supreme star of the performance ... his interpretation of the music is ... in my opinion ... prerfection.
BUT there is one exception I have to make in my review ... THE THREE BOYS ... they were the VERY BEST EVER!!!! No one has eulogised over their stunning performances.
Each of their three very different voices blends to give a sublime harmony culminating in the sublime quartet contrasting with the female soprano of Parmina.
Buy this and you will never listen to any other interpretation. It would be wonderful to have a CD version of this
Musically superb; visually more problematic
Abel | Hong Kong | 11/18/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I reside in Asia. I may be a bit 'backward' with regard to the avant garde opera productions.
I purchased this DVD with high hopes, since it is conducted by Harnoncourt, who in my view is the top living Mozartian.
Musically this performance is very good. The singers all perform wonderfully, including Elena Mosuc's Queen of Night, and Christoph Strehl (again, since Abbado's CD) as Tamino.
However, visually it is much more problematic for me, since most of the imagery stuff do not fit in my own mindset of this work: a Tamino who is much more like a Wall Street executive than a young prince; a Papageno who is so fat and feeds on Coke; the peeled chicken upsets me greatly visually; the Queen of Night residing in a refrigerator may be configurative, but the imagery does not work well on stage. It belongs to a class of imagery that befits the books only: in short, they are literal and not dramatic.
It would indeed be very nice if DG would turn out a CD release for this wonderful performance, since even the various small ensembles (the three ladies, the three boys, the two priests, the two armoured men...) all performed gloriously musically."