• CD Review: Die Zauberflöte (1964, Klemperer)

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    Die Zauberflöte

    1964, EMI

    (Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Walter Berry, Lucia Popp, Gottlob Frick, Gerhard Unger; Philharmonia Chorus; Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Otto Klemperer)


    This classic recording has been hailed again and again as the definitive Zauberflöte, yet at the same time is controversial due to its decidedly Romantic take on the score. With its lack of any spoken dialogue, use of women as the Three Boys, lush modern orchestra and slow, slow tempos, it can never be called a historically authentic performance. But in the masterful hands of Otto Klemperer, it’s lovely. His interpretation may be slow, but it’s never sluggish, never overwhelms the score’s lighthearted moments, and its grandeur reinforces the noble themes and idealism of the story. As a critic once wrote, this is The Magic Flute from the viewpoint of Sarastro and the priests: not Flute as pantomime, but Flute as a rich morality tale set in a majestic, golden-hued fantasy world.


    Nicolai Gedda’s Tamino combines classic Mozartian sweetness of tone with heroic vocal ring, while Gundula Janowitz, with her shimmering, honeyed soprano, is an enchanting Pamina. His delivery may be a bit stodgy and hers a bit bland, but they certainly sound like the archetypes they’re supposed to be: he of courage and virtue, she of innocence and tenderness. Whatever humanity they lack is supplied in spades by Walter Berry’s warm, chipper, smiling-toned Papageno, whose deep, hearty bass-baritone perfectly compliments their light golden timbres. Lucia Popp, meanwhile, is a truly goddess-like Queen of the Night, with perfect agility and a luxurious tone that instantly captivates the listener. Gottlob Frick, fairly late in his career, is a slightly unsteady Sarastro, but his dark, sonorous bass is still an appropriately majestic sound. Gerhard Unger’s solid if slightly bland Monostatos, Franz Crass’s rich voiced Speaker, star cameos by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig and Marga Höffgen as the Three Ladies, and the rest of the supporting singers complete an unforgettable ensemble.


    While this isn’t an ideal Flute in every way, it would still make an outstanding Flute for newcomers to the opera and is a must for Mozart devotees. Its grand approach to the score may be more Romantic than Enlightenment, but rarely has Flute ever been performed with more charm, dignity or beauty.


    Music Clip: Lucia Popp’s “O zittre nicht”

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