• July 1, 2009 /  Commentary, Performances

    It must be obvious from this site that I am a big fan of Die Zauberflöte. And I really like many of Mozart’s other operas (Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Entführung aus dem Serail to name a couple). But along side these, my “desert island” collection would include lots of Beethoven.
    Mozart was a major influence on Beethoven. Beethoven traveled to Vienna during the period Mar.-May, 1787 to study with Mozart (but was called back to Bonn when his mother fell ill). He had great respect for Mozart. In 1796 Beethoven wrote in a letter “I have always counted myself amongst the greatest admirers of Mozart, and shall remain so until my last breath”.
    Beethoven wrote a number of variations based on themes from Mozart operas. He considered Die Zauberflöte to be Mozart’s best.
    In 1796, Beethoven wrote 12 Variations for Piano & Cello in F major on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”, Op. 66. Here are variations one and two.

    In 1801 Beethoven wrote 7 Variations for Piano & Cello in E flat major on the duet “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”, WoO 46. Here is the first variation.

    These performances are from a recording of Beethoven Cello and Piano music with Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin, Sony CD SM2K 58985.
    The quote above is taken from The Beethoven Compendium, ISBN 0-500-27871-1

  • February 22, 2009 /  Commentary, Performances

    The role of the Königen der Nacht (the Queen of the Night) is the “diva” role in Die Zauberflöte. The role has lots of “virtuoso” singing (coloratura) and she usually gets a big entrance and a  great costume. The Queen only has two arias but a good performance (singing and acting) is really important for the entire opera. Because the Queen of the Night is crazy.
    Mozart’s music is brilliant at demonstrating for us that this is so. But we don’t know that right away. The Queen’s first aria starts out rational enough. “Oh, zitt’re nicht, mein lieber Sohn!” (“Don’t quake [before me] my beloved son!”) begin her words to Tamino. And the music portrays her as rational enough. She goes on to explain how her only daughter was kidnapped from her by the evil Sarastro and she was powerless to intervene (“Denn meine Hilfe war zu schwach” (“For I was too weak to help”)). And we really feel her pain. Mozart is really brilliant.
    Then, we see her true colors. We can almost feel her crack when the tone of the music shifts as she sings “Du, du, du! wirst sie zu befreien geben. Du wirst der Tochter retter sien.” (“You, you, you! will release her. You will be the saviour of my daughter.”). Now, I am not a big fan of coloratura but the Queen’s next bit can only be Mozart’s way of showing us that she is mad. Did I say that Mozart is brilliant? But poor Tamino. What a wimp. He falls for it all.
    When the Queen returns in Act II, the coloratura is over the top. Absolutely brilliant. (That word again. Hard to avoid it when talking about this opera.) Kill Sarastro, she tells Pamina. Do it or you are no longer my daughter. Wow, is that dysfunctional or what? Like I said, the Queen is crazy. And the music that Mozart provided her is just beautiful. Beautifully mad.
    Here is the great Erna Berger as the Queen singing the second act aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”(“Hellish revenge roils in my heart”). Pretty strong stuff!
    This is from a 1938 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

  • February 21, 2009 /  Performances

    I have in my collection of Die Zauberflöte recordings a number of older (and some newer) vinyl. Of course the sound quality of a record can’t compare with a contemporary digital recording but they can contain absolute gems of performance.
    Here is an example. This clip is of Peter Roth-Ehrang singing Sarastro in a 1958 recording made at the Staatsoper Hamburg. (The picture is not of Peter Roth-Ehrang but of a costume study by Heinrich Stürmer for the 1816 Berlin Hofoper production.)

    Sarastro is a tough role and this is an exceptional performance in my opinion.
    I haven’t found much about Hr. Roth-Ehrang. He seems to have been fairly active in the fifties and I did find one reference to a role in the German film “Schwarzer Peter” in 1966. Anybody know more?

  • February 21, 2009 /  Performances

    Probably my favorite piece of music from the opera is the duet “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” sung by Pamina and Papageno in the first act. So, it seems fitting that the first entry here should be one of my favorite performances of this duet. This is from a performance recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2000. The singers are Malin Hartelius and Anton Scharinger. (Both of these brilliant singers will appear here again, so stay tuned.)

    Review of the recording:
    This clip is from a TDK DVD, no. DV-OPMF. I highly recommend this recording! (Just do a Net search for it to get the cast and crew details.) The performance is great. For me, a Zauberflöte performance depends on Papageno, Pamina, Sarastro and the Queen in roughly that order. (I have almost given up on ever getting a convincing Tamino. Maybe because the character is just such a wimp. OK, there are some good Taminos out there. I will sample a few in later posts. Maybe.) In this performance, directed by Jonathan Miller, all four are outstanding. And the production quality of the DVD is also very good with PCM stereo, AC3 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio tracks. A first class recording of a first class performance.