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Mozart: The Magic Flute / Levine, Polenzani, Huang, Gunn, Pape


Release Date: 08/16/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 791013  
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Matthew PolenzaniYing HuangNathan GunnErika Miklosa,   ... 
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera ChorusMetropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MOZART The Magic Flute James Levine, cond; Matthew Polenzani ( Tamino ); Nathan Gunn ( Papageno ); Erika Miklósa ( Queen of the Night ); Ying Huang ( Pamina ); Greg Fedderly ( Monostatos ); Jennifer Aylmer ( Papagena ); René Read more Pape ( Sarastro ); Metropolitan Op Ch, O, Ballet MET OPERA HDLIVE 88697 91913 9 (DVD: 112:00) Live: Metropolitan Opera 12/2006


I give the title in the headnote in English because the performance is in English. The arias and ensembles (though not choruses) are also optionally subtitled in English, though this is unnecessary because the articulation of the singers is wonderfully clear in J. D. McClatchy’s updated adaptation. Whoever said one can’t sing Mozart in English? If English is an issue, however, then read no further.


There is no date on this recording, and my review copy has no booklet or notes with it at all, but it seems to be the first Met HD broadcast to world movie theaters, December 30, 2006. Julie Taymor’s production is exuberant and playful. She uses puppets of all sizes and shapes for airy things and her costumes are fanciful and suggestive rather than realistic. George Tsypin’s set consists of a huge clear plastic-like revolving cube with large openings in each of the sides, through which magical entrances and exits can be made. This is very much a 21st-century production; it is abstract and constantly in motion. This is fitting because nothing about the opera itself is realistic.


My sense is that this production, including its use of English, was designed to capture younger audiences as well as their parents, and I hope it has done so. It is filled with imagination and visual delight, and McClatchy’s translation is slangy for Papageno and Monostatos and more formal for the rest. It fits the music generally quite well (though there are a couple of places where the singers almost trip over the words in quick passages).


One has to note, however, that the opera has been severely cut. By any stretch, this is one of the shortest recordings available in any medium—most run between 140 and 150 minutes—and this is not done only by eliminating most of the dialogue. All the choruses except those of the two finales are cut. The introduction and colloquy of the brotherhood at the opening of the second act is cut. The duet between Pamina and Papageno, “Bei Männern,” is cut. Pamina does not threaten suicide. “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” has only one verse, and the whole act II finale has been greatly revised. There is more, but these are the largest excisions. I don’t know if it was played in the house as it is here, in one long, unbroken, sweep, or if there was a pause after the first act—a quick scrim drops at the end of the first act, but that may have been only to suggest a change of place. It is, in any event, not noted anywhere that it is in two acts. Perhaps it is appropriate that the original librettist (and story-maker), Emmanuel Schikaneder, is not given any credit for his work.


What has happened is that all references to anything vaguely suggesting a secret order, other than mentioning a “Brotherhood,” have been stripped out, as have any notions of a quest with any goal other than the rescue of Pamina. This has further increased the weight on Papageno, to the audience’s clear pleasure, and most of the dialogue remaining goes to him, with many contemporary jokes and attitudes. To his great credit, Nathan Gunn is not only a fine singer, but a very good comic actor.


When we look at the purely musical values, one can see that there is a fitness to all the parts remaining. For all her two flashy arias, well done by Erika Miklósa, the Queen of the Night does not dominate the performance. Despite losing an aria and a duet, Ying Huang is an appealing Pamina. René Pape is not the deep bass of, say, Martti Talvela, but he brings a distant dignity to Sarastro. In this production, Monostatos is not dangerous but simply silly and, as such, is amusingly played by Greg Fedderly, and Jennifer Aylmer is a playful Papagena. While one cannot say that Matthew Polenzani makes something special of the rather bland part left to him for Tamino, his singing is a pleasure to listen to all the way through. In short, no one singer overbalances another, and this has helped to unify this production. With so much removed, James Levine does not need to race the orchestra through the opera. While not leisurely, there is no sense of a shortage of musical breath. The overture is accompanied by backstage scenes, during which we see the singers being costumed and how some of Julie Taymor’s and Michael Curry’s sophisticated puppets work.


If everything once taken solemnly is jettisoned in favor of a straightforward boy-gets-girl story, perhaps this is a Magic Flute for our time. I would love to have seen this performance in the house, but it works well on the DVD, too. I think English-speaking children will especially like it, but I had a good time, too.


FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

1. Die Zauberflöte, K 620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Matthew Polenzani (Tenor), Ying Huang (Soprano), Nathan Gunn (Baritone),
Erika Miklosa (Soprano), René Pape (Bass)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: December 30, 2006 
Venue:  Metropolitan Opera, New York 
Language: English 

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