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Die Zauberflöte
09 Nov 2006

MOZART: Die Zauberflöte

The back of this DG set relates that the company made the recording "in Modena in conjunction with a series of performances in Italy and Germany."

W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (K. 620)

Sarastro: René Pape; Königin der Nacht: Erika Miklósa; Pamina: Dorothea Röschmann; Tamino: Christoph Strehl; Papageno: Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Papagena: Julia Kleiter; Sprecher: Georg Zeppenfeld; Monostatos: Kurt Azesberger; Erste Dame: Caroline Stein; Zweite Dame: Heidi Zehnder; Dritte Dame: Anne-Caroline Schlüter; Drei Knaben: Alexander Lischke, Frederic Jost, Niklas Mallmann (Soloists from Tölzer Knabenchor); Erster geharnischter Mann: Danilo Formaggia; Zweiter geharnischter Mann: Sascha Borris; Erster Priester: Andreas Bauer;

DG 00289 477 5789 [2CDs]

$30.58  Click to buy

In other words, this Die Zauberflöte is a live recording — for all intents and purposes, the only sort of opera set the larger recording companies release these days. Live recording techniques have advanced so remarkably that until the applause breaks out (as it only does at the opera's conclusion), this well-engineered release could pass for a studio effort.

What it gains, as long-time collectors of live recordings already know well, is the immediacy and cohesion of actual performance. But with the DVD market burgeoning, why not just present the entire performance, not just the audio? The photographs inside the CD booklet suggest an attractive staging.

The focus of DG's marketing seems to be on the conducting of Claudio Abbado. His name has the largest font size on the cover, and a sticker on the front proclaims "Abbado's first ever Magic Flute." So if the emphasis is on the conductor, a CD makes sense. A brief note tells us that Abbado went back to Mozart's autograph, but then continues to sheepishly inform the reader that the chief product of this research involves the instrumentation of "four string chords" before a Pamina number. Abbado has always been a beloved person, and his opera credentials cannot be questioned, especially considering such classic Verdi sets as his DG Simon Boccanegra. Since his recovery from a near-fatal bout with cancer, his reputation has taken on a spiritual aura. Thankfully, this Die Zauberflöte doesn't come across as a pontifical pronouncement. Instead, Abbado relishes the high spirits and exuberance of the score, with the weightier music of the second act given its due but not slowing the opera down. With crisp playing from the Mahler Chamber orchestra, Abbado produces a lean, but never mean Die Zauberflöte.

A strong cast somehow falls shy of bringing as much individuality to their performances as Abbado does with his orchestral leadership. A star Sarastro, René Pape, relies on the undeniable tonal pleasure of his oaken timbre. His wry humor and sensuality, of course, don't belong here, but they are missed. Erika Miklósa goes for a lighter, brighter Queen of the Night sound, and she scores points with the sharpness of her attack in her second act showpiece. On stage Hanno Müller-Brachmann's burly, even boorish Papageno presumably came across better. As the young lovers, Dorothea Röschmann and Christopher Strehl lack memorability, especially in comparison to great singers in earlier recordings.

Pape will star soon in Kenneth Branagh's film version of this opera, and numerous DVDs are available. In fact, the Metropolitan Opera will begin its series of relayed broadcasts to movie theaters with the hit Julie Taymor production at the end of this year. No one, it seems, need fear a lack of access to a recording of this beloved classic. For collectors of Abbado, no more need be said. All others need to strictly evaluate their shelf space. If there's room, this set should be a pleasant addition.

Chris Mullins

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