Notes and Editorial Reviews
René Jacobs, cond; Marlis Petersen (
); Daniel Behle (
); Anna-Kristiina Kaappolla (
Queen of the Night
); Marcos Fink (
); Daniel Schmutzhard (
); Kurt Azesberger (
class="ARIAL12">); RIAS CCh; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI 902068.70 (3 CDs:167:16
Text and Translation)
With the belief that “No opera loses so much as
if one strips it of its drama and that means, above all, the spoken dialogue,” René Jacobs’ agenda in
is to rehabilitate the reputation of Schikaneder’s libretto. At the heart of his reassesment is the idea that Schikaneder and Mozart’s Masonic message is deeper and more carefully presented than we have thought. He suggests that seemingly silly or inconsistent aspects of the story are put there as intentional false paths as the audience, not only the prince and the bird catcher, undergoes its own trials of initiation. The opera’s symbolism and structure are explained in convincing detail in an essay in the booklet by the Egyptologist and Mozart researcher Jan Assman,
Reminding us that the opera is a Singspiel, a play with added music, Jacobs calls his
recording a “Hörspiel,” the German term for “radio play,” and he uses techniques associated with that medium to hold our interest through the sometimes lengthy portions of dialogue, challenging us not to fast forward to the next musical track. There are sound effects, speeches delivered simultaneously, and overlaps between dialogue and music. Even though there’s no continuo in
, Jacobs argues that the original Kapellmeister would have made use of a keyboard, so at times a fortepianist accompanies the speaking with improvisation and reminiscences of arias already delivered, Tamino’s “Dein Bildnis” in particular. (The fortepiano is also incorporated into the orchestral accompaniment of many musical numbers.) With almost all of the original dialogue included, the opera occupies three CDs instead of the usual two. Ironically, and maybe by design, this new recording uses the same cover art as Otto Klemperer’s celebrated EMI version, a performance that omits the dialogue altogether.
Does it succeed? For a first hearing by a patient listener, yes. Jacobs’s imaginative if somewhat gimmicky approach to presenting Schikaneder’s play as it would have been experienced in the Theater auf der Wieden in 1791 secures this performance a unique place in the discography. At the same time, this is a postmodern
for the 21st century that acknowledges itself as an audio recording. However, I must confess that my second and third hearings took place with the welcome aid of a fast-forward button. Jacobs’ claim that it is a “mistaken belief that Mozart’s music in
is on a superior plane to Schikaneder’s play” is overstated. It’s the musical performance that makes this recording indispensible.
As in all of Jacobs’ Mozart performances, some traditional tempos are taken, but as we have come to expect, others are faster, bouncier, and more dance-like. His tempo choices, explained in an accompanying essay, represent a re-evaluation of performance traditions and they make sense not only because of the musicological research or instincts behind them, but because they are text-based and illuminate some aspect of the drama. When a character has a change of heart, it is often reflected in a change of the music’s speed. A familiar phrase will be set off by a pause, or taken suddenly slower, setting some of the score’s most beautiful moments in striking relief.
I find some of Jacobs’ more audacious musical additions to be very enjoyable and true to the spirit of Mozart and Schikaneder. Among them are a gorgeous, extended cadenza for the Three Ladies at the end of the opening quartet, lavish vocal ornamentation in Papageno’s act II aria, and a vocally staggered version of the chorus of slaves repelled by Papageno’s glockenspiel in act I that’s a truly funny travesty.
Youthful, sweet-voiced Taminos, Papagenos and Paminas are not in short supply, but Daniel Behle, Daniel Schmutzhard, and Marlis Petersen are among the best that I’ve heard. Petersen is a soprano of particularly pure tone. Behle has a slightly dark sound, like Ernst Haefliger (one of the best Taminos, for Fricsay), lovely, fluent, and conversational in his approach. (How far removed his singing is from Helge Rosvaenge’s overwrought account of the role on Beecham’s famous 1937–38 recording, a version that would undoubtedly hold up better if the Jewish singers, Tauber and Kipnis, had been able to participate as planned.) Schmutzhard offers an unexaggerated Papageno, gracefully sung and comfortable with Schikaneder’s Viennese idiom.
As the Queen of the Night, Anna-Kristiina Kaappola sings expressively with almost exciting technique, but her characterization is lightweight and insufficiently fearsome. Aside from some regrettable yodeling sounds, Cristina Deutekom actually gives one of the strongest performances of the role on Solti’s 1969 Decca version, the best-cast and -conducted of the older recordings. (In spite of much beautiful singing, I consider both Böhm’s and Klemperer’s to be overrated. They lack the deftness and contrasts in mood that give the work so much of its joy.)
The Sarastro, Marcos Fink, delivers his lines particularly eloquently, without pomposity. One of Jacobs’ innovations is to have him sing his arias intimately, like a Lieder singer, at flowing tempos that dispel any doubts about the character’s humanity. Fink, a bass-baritone, doesn’t have the rich low notes of Kurt Moll or Gottlob Frick, but he’s a creditable Sarastro.
The casting of the secondary roles—there are so many of such importance in this opera—is wonderfully strong. The Three Ladies—Inga Kalna, Anna Grevelius, and Isabelle Druet—are notably in tune and in sync with each other in their difficult ensembles. Kurt Azesberger has the perfect Monostatos voice. His act II aria is an unusual instance of Jacobs taking a slower tempo than the norm. Kostantin Wolff is a melifluous Speaker. The three Sankt-Florianer Sängerknaben members are chirpier than the usual three boys.
The greatest pleasure of this sonically vivid recording is the splendid orchestral playing, from the taut brilliance of the overture to the delicate tracery of the strings in the final chorus. Jacobs is more than a musicologist/provacateur, he’s a conductor whose charisma comes across in recordings—just listen to the overtures to any of his Mozart operas or his “Jupiter’ Symphony. Like some of Toscanini’s, I believe Harmonia Mundi’s important series of Mozart operas will endure in spite of some of the casting (such as the bland portrayals of the title roles in
) because of the fire, conviction, and subtlety of the conducting.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
Die Zauberflöte, K 620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Marlis Petersen (Soprano),
Anne-Kristiina Kaappola (Soprano),
Daniel Behle (Tenor),
Marcos Fink (Baritone),
Sunhae Im (Soprano),
Daniel Schmutzhard (Baritone)
Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,
Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria
Featured Sound Samples
Die Zauberflöte: Act I: "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen"
Act II: "Der Hölle Rache"
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