In Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder brought off an extraordinary feat, uniting two seemingly unrelated theatrical genres--pantomime and straight play. The first is represented by the comic antics of the birdcatcher, Papageno, the second in a series of rituals through which a prince and his lady pass in search of true love. This production from the Ludwigsburger Festspiele in 1992 in a minimalist staging by Axel Manthey with sets and costumes by him and Alexander Lintl, offers a clearly delineated path through a sophisticated and worldly plot that can be bewildering on first acquaintance. But no opera production in recent years seems to eschew some whim or trendy idea of the producer: here we have Sarastro's priests with shaved heads, the three boys dressed for a school sports day, and a Papageno kitted out in knickerbockers who one fears might break into "I love to go a- wandering, a knapsack on my back." Much more stylish are the Three Ladies, emissaries of the Queen of the Night, shapely figures in their striking royal blue and red dresses.
The musical direction is in the safe hands of Wolfgang Gönnenwein, who favors the occasional swift tempo as in the "March" to Act II. The cast includes one exceptional singer, the soprano Ulrike Sonntag as Pamina, happily partnered by Deon Van Der Walt as Tamino. Thomas Mohr is the characterful Papageno, and Andrea Frei as the Queen of the Night does well with the coloratura runs of her fiendishly difficult arias, though she sounds less secure in her slow music. As Sarastro, Cornelius Hauptmann makes up for some wooden acting with his sonorous bass. One takes away from watching this production a renewed admiration for Mozart and his librettist for an opera that, in its mixture of spoken dialogue and musical numbers, anticipates by 150 years the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. --Adrian Edwards
A passed out Tamino is rescued from a great serpent by the Three Ladies. When Tamino comes to his senses, the bird-catcher Papageno claims to have killed the serpent. The Ladies punish Papageno's lies. They give Tamino a portrait of a beautiful girl, by which he is immediately fascinated. This is Pamina, abducted, he is told, by a wicked magician. The Queen of the Night makes her terrifying appearance, and tells Tamino that he must rescue Pamina, her daughter. The Ladies give Tamino a magic flute and Papageno silver bells for their protection on their quest. "The conductor creates real suspense and excitement with music of effervescence and vitality. Avoiding all obsequiousness as well as sentimentality, leaving enough time for Mozart's heart-tones to calmly unfold and resonate, [conductor Wolfgang] Gonnenwein give this Magic Flute an inner tempo, which leaves no place for portentousness." --Horst Koegler in Opernwelt (Opera world). Andrea Frei, Cornelius Hauptmann, Deon VanDerWalt, Thomas Mohr, Ulrike Sonntag. Director: Axel Manthey
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