• February 28, 2009 /  Reviews

    Perhaps I should say film adaptations. There are many fine “filmed” Zauberflöte productions available. I will be looking at some of these in later reviews. But the two films I want to explore here use the medium to do more with the opera than just provide a record of a stage production.
    A somewhat radical take on The Magic Flute is the version adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh with an english libretto by Stephen Fry. I will be writing my thoughts on this film in a later post. The subject of this post is the adaptation by Ingmar Bergman.

    I saw Ingmar Bergman’s “Trollflöjten” shortly after its US theatrical release in November, 1975. The film was originally made for Swedish television and premiered there on new year’s day of the same year. It is not an exaggeration to say that this viewing is the reason I now have a web-site dedicated to this opera. It was through this film that I discovered The Magic Flute. Even though it was over thirty years ago I can remember the sense of absolute enchantment I felt then. Yes, it is in Swedish. And, yes, liberties have been taken with the story. But this film is still one of the best (arguably, the best) filmed versions of The Magic Flute.
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  • February 26, 2009 /  Commentary, Recordings

    A couple of years ago I purchased a recording of the Flute by Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Bayerische Staatsoper (EMI Classics re-release, originally recorded in 1972).
    On my first hearing I was immediately impressed. Then, in the second act, a surprise! A duet by Tamino and Papageno, “Pamina, wo bist du?”, that I had never heard, or heard of, before. The reference books I have listed nothing. Very curious I searched the Net for anything I could find. But the only references were to this recording (for the track listing). Hmmm.
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  • 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 /  Stuff

    Back in 1968, the porcelain maker Rosenthal introduced their “Zauberflöte” collections. There were full place settings, tea and coffee services and additional pieces. They came in numerous variations including plain white, “Platin” in white with dark gray accents, and “Sarastro” with lots of gold.
    Rosenthal Zauberflöte Broshure
    I first heard of these pieces from a friend whose mom gave her a tea service, in “Platin”,  a number of years ago. She brought it out once when we were visiting. Really cool stuff. Definitely over the top but cool.
    I went looking for some more info about the pieces and ended up with quite a number of links to eBay. So, to add to my growing collection of Magic Flute stuff, I bought a small vase, pictured here.
    Rosenthal vase
    Rosenthal vase inscription
    The inscription on the base is a line from the opera. It reads: “1.Aüfzüg, 1.Aüftritt: Die drei Damen: Würd ich mein Herz der Liebe weihn, so müßt es dieser Jüngling sein!” (1.Act, 1.Scene: The three ladies: Would I give my heart to love, it must be for this young man!). The signature is of the designer, Bjørn Wiinblad.

  • 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.