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Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Magic Flute

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
A stripped-down version of the Mozart classic. You know, for kids.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Magic Flute

Nathan Gunn confronts some Julie Taymor-designed masks in Act I of The Magic Flute.
Photo by Ken Howard © The Metropolitan Opera.

This presentation of the Met's acclaimed Julie Taymor staging of Mozart's final opera goes light on the mysticism but heavy on the jokes, presenting this story of a young prince's spiritual quest in ancient Egypt as a breezy, 100-minute romp.
And yes, it's being performed in English.
This was Mozart's last work for the stage, created not for the Vienna Court Opera but for the popular theaters of that great city. He was fortunate to work with the impresario Emanuel Schickenader, constructing a libretto that still resonates with children and adults today. (The opera was conceived as a kind of theatrical introduction to the principles and tenets of Masonry, but that's not important right now.) The score is sublime and universal in its appeal, combining the solemnity of the composer's best religious music with Mozart's unique gift for melody and lashings of baroque style.
The opera brings a wide range of musical ideas to the table, from the popular Viennese music hall songs sung by the bird-catcher Papageno (a role written for the opera's librettist Emanuel Schickenader) to the 18th-century revenge arias warbled by the villainous Queen of the Night.
This year's cast features charismatic baritone Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Eric Owens as the fatherly Sarastro, and Alek Shrader as the noble young prince Tamino.
Recording Recommendations:
The Magic Flute is one of the most popular operas ever written, and there are many recordings available. The best combine a great conductor's reverence for the music with a superb and idiomatic German-speaking cast. Here are two that came out in 1964. Four decades after their release, they continue to stand out. (And yes, the're both in German because this opera is better in German.
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Otto Klemperer (EMI, 1964)
Tamino: Nicolai Gedda
Pamina: Gundula Janowitz
Papageno: Walter Berry
Queen of the Night: Lucia Poppp
Sarastro: Gottlob Frick
Otto Klemperer's heavyweight approach to Mozart sometimes makes the music sound more like Beethoven, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in this opera. This EMI recording is in German but omits the spoken dialog between numbers. This artificial approach lets the listener focus on the ebb and flow of Mozart's music. The cast is industry standard, with a good mix of older and younger singers. Gundula Janowitz and Lucia Popp are standouts. This set is also available as part of a bargain box of Otto Klemperer's Mozart opera recordings which came out earlier this year.
Berlin Philharmonic cond. Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon, 1964)
Tamino: Fritz Wunderlich
Pamina: Evelyn Lear
Papageno: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Queen of the Night: Roberta Peters
Sarastro: Franz Crass
Another set from an expert Mozart conductor who is a bit more brisk in his approach to the score. The Böhm recording incorporates some of the original spoken dialogue, making the experience more like the opera is in the theater. He has a crackerjack cast (almost as good as the Klemperer set) with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Papageno and Fritz Wunderlich's Tamino dominating the set. (The "Die Bildnis" in Act I is to die for.) The late Evelyn Lear is a lovely Pamina and Franz Crass (the Speaker on the Klemperer set) is a firm, dark Sarastro.

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