Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

16 Jun 2013

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

A review by Estelle Gilson

A film from Emerging Pictures

$15.98  Click to buy

I imagine they were hoping that their cheerful little “singspiel”,we know as The Magic Flute would make a lot of people happy, and them a lot of money. It did both.

The trick of dramatizing these folktales was to keep the audience happily confused. Inexplicable things happen in inexplicable ways. Who’s good and who’s bad? You don’t find out until the end. Considering the bizarre effects telling such a tale allows, it was inevitable that the work would be brought to the screen. The first Magic Flute film, created in 1975 by the usually dour Ingmar Bergman, was a charming fantasy clearly addressed to childish pleasures. The second was created in 2006 by the Irish actor, writer, director Kenneth Branagh. The film premiered in London in 2007 to sold out audiences. It showed widely in parts of the world, and is just now being brought to the United States. It debuted here in limited showings on June 9th. 2013.

Branagh’s film is in a sense, a present day reinterpretation of The Magic Flute. To begin with, Branagh commissioned a new libretto in English from Stephen Fry. He changed the opera’s Egyptian setting to an unspecified World War I battle site. He essentially replaced the work’s Masonic symbolism with an anti-war message. And he employed the kind of magnificent technical wizardry which neither Mozart nor Shikaneder could ever have imagined.

Musical command of the work was assigned to James Conlon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company, known for his expertise in and affection for Mozart. Singers were chosen for their ability to sing English clearly and for the appropriateness of appearance, which movie goers expect. The entire opera was prerecorded. Singers lip synched Fry’s witty, rhymed text and entertaining one-liners, an excellent solution considering the number of stressful scenes. It’s unlikely that either Tamino or Pamina could have uttered much more than gasps during their trial by water.

The first scenes take us from a blue sky to a flowered meadow. Peace and happiness seem to reign. But it is short lived. The camera soon leads us to Tamino and his blue uniformed comrades hiding in trenches. But don’t worry! Branagh is quick to assure us that the film is fantasy. The soldiers are clean shaven and crisply immaculate. They are led into battle by marching troops playing violins, and their klutzy looking airplanes jerk, rather than fly. Deep in the trenches we meet Papageno, in charge of carrier pigeons and hazard warning canaries. The three ladies first turn up as flamboyant nuns, later in various other guises. In a delightful touch, Tamino’s first glance at Pamina’s portrait evokes a charming black and white ball room fantasy in the young soldier’s mind. A really, really angry Queen of the Night arrives on a tank to enlist Tamino’s aid in rescuing her kidnapped daughter. The three boys materialize at appropriate times. When we first encounter a benign looking Sarastro, he is within his huge domain devoted to kindness. It is peopled with plain looking folks and a large number of sick and maimed. The sick are in immaculate hospitals attended by clearly caring nurses. Those well enough to work are busy at various projects — coffin making for one. Sarastro too, has an army. His troops wear red.

Sarastro sings his moving “O Isis und Osiris,” a prayer that the young lovers be granted wisdom virtue and patience, overlooking what seems an endless graveyard. Behind him is a massive wall into which the names of young fallen soldiers are carved in their native languages. These include English, Hebrew, Arab, Russian and Chinese.

With 21st century film magic available to them, happily, Branagh and Fry have kept the inexplicable happenings moving at a fascinating and breakneck speed. The dizzying succession of special effects will remind you of everything from Mary Poppins to Monty Python, from Snow White to Star Wars.

Whatever the visuals, you can’t beat Mozart’s score, which is brilliantly rendered here by Maestro Conlon and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. René Pape makes a splendidly benign Sarastro opposing Lyuba Petrova’s magnificently furious Queen of the Night. Joseph Kaiser’s well acted and well sung Tamino, was appropriately heroic and tender. The role of Pamina was sung by Amy Carson, a young talented soprano, previously untested in opera. Though her well produced voice suited the lighter moments in the score, it lacked the heft for its dramatic arias. Benjamin Davis and Sylvia Moi were delightful as Papageno and Papagena. The fantasy offspring Branagh supplied them during their engaging duet, added to the joyous scene. Tom Randle was humorously menacing Monastatos. Credit Kenneth Branagh that every role, large and small, whether sung or not, was extraordinarily well acted.

In an interview Branagh gave in 2009, he expressed concern about how opera fans would receive his work. “I know that some Mozart fans will turn up their noses at these changes, but this film is not designed for them, I’m trying to tell the story as if it were new, for a new audience.”

I believe that Branagh is correct and hope he finds his audience. I found the film literally too dark hued, too crowded with people, and too action packed. But then, I’m a veteran of decades of opera house Magic Flutes, and prefer it set as a more graceful fantasy. In truth, I must tell you that other, perhaps younger reviewers described the film differently. “Fresh and spectacular,” wrote one. “Branagh’s imagery is imaginative and the music lifts you,” said another. Still another declared himself “enamored of the work.”

Kenneth Branagh’s Magic Flute is unique in the history of movie making and opera. It’s worth seeing for the experience itself and perhaps to explore your own preferences in fantasy.

I saw the film on a readily available DVD that features interviews with Kenneth Branagh, his cast the crew, and a “making of” featurette.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Tamino: Joseph Kaiser; Pamina: Amy Carson;Papageno: Ben Davis; Papagena: Sylvia Moi: Queen of the Night: Lyuba Petrova; Sarastro: René Pape; Monastatos: Thomas Randle. Director: Kenneth Branagh. English Libretto: Stephen Fry. Music Director and Conductor: James Conlon. Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Production Design: Tim Harvey.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):