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Opera on DVD: Salzburg Magic Flute

available at Amazon
M-22, Salzburger Festspiele
(released February 13, 2007)
The Salzburg Festival did something extraordinary last summer, staging full productions of all of Mozart's operas, in honor of the 250th birthday of Salzburg's native son. The box set of all 22 operas on DVD came out earlier this year, and the two productions that most interested me (because of the reviews by Renaud Machart for Le Monde last summer) have recently come across my desk.

Die Zauberflöte
As one of the centerpieces of a festival of all of Mozart's operas, Magic Flute was crucial. The Salzburg Festival's last new production of the opera, a revisionist monstrosity by Graham Vick, was out of the question, so Pierre Audi did some renovations on a production of Magic Flute made for De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam in the 1990s. With bright, multichromatic sets by Karel Appel and costumes by Jorge Jara, this Flute seems to be transpiring in a 60s acid trip or (not unrelated?) a Dr. Seuss story. Papageno's laid-back attitude is explained by his being costumed as a bright yellow Rastafarian, minus the doobie. Sarastro, in pale face paint, is accompanied by what look like Loraxes rather than lions. In Act I, the Queen of the Night is a bright green version of Thing 1 and Thing 2, while the Alpine climber outfits for the Three Ladies are vintage Bartholomew Cubbins.

Master Ionarts, who has proclaimed Flute his favorite opera, was able to follow the action and seemed to like the wild, colorful setting. I am not so sure that it added anything to the opera, although the staging of the trials was among the best I have seen, with the chorus wearing helmets with actual flames coming out of them and a fountain bursting into the middle of the stage. Audi also feels that Sarastro has to save or forgive the Queen of the Night, which was also done in the Santa Fe staging last season, although in a slightly different way. The libretto says only that the Queen and her ladies lose all their power and then sink down into the stage defeated.

The cast was excellent, beginning with René Pape looking perhaps a trifle bored with his umpteenth excellent turn as Sarastro. Diana Damrau is one of the leading Queens of the Night on the stage today, and she was thrilling to watch. Vocally, I tend to prefer a singer with a lighter, more razor-precise technique in this role, but Damrau lives the Queen, speaking and singing, in a way that was all spit venom and blistering malice (see her rendition of "Der Hölle Rache" in the video below). The best surprise of the cast was Genia Kühmeier's Pamina, more substantial than Natalie Dessay (in many ways, the Pamina of my dreams) but packing a punch within a sharp sense of line (her splendid "Ach,ich fühl's" is on YouTube, of course). Christian Gerhaher, in spite of the ridiculous costume, was a wry Papageno, with the exquisite pronunciation and diction one would expect from such an accomplished, German-born Lieder singer. The only disappointment was Paul Groves, who seemed a little old and beefy as Tamino. Can all of you opera directors agree, after this and The First Emperor, that Paul Groves and hair extensions are not a good match? The Vienna Philharmonic and Staatsopernchor are both in excellent form under the authoritative baton of Riccardo Muti.

Decca DVD 074 3159

More on Le Nozze di Figaro tomorrow.

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