Mozart: Die Zauberflote

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: TDK
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Die Zauberflote
PERFORMER: Anton Scharinger, Piotr Beczala, Malin Hartelius, Matti Salminen; Zurich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Franz Welser-Most; dir.Jonathan Miller (Zurich Opera, 2000)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPMF
Jonathan Miller’s Eighties Mozart staging had showings at Scottish Opera and ENO before in 1999 arriving at Zurich (where this film was made). One of the most austere, erudite and also ‘partial’ Flute productions of recent decades, it is set in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where the 18th-century Enlightened gather, and the plot -reason triumphing over dark forces of Church and State – is “Famine’s dream after he falls asleep there.

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This summary of Miller’s rationale may suggest its main limitation: the opera’s profundity is touched — profoundly, indeed — but its enchanting and physically enthralling aspects get short shrift. Trials by fire and water are scrapped, moments of naive delight downgraded. Yet on film, to an adult spectator, the sombre eloquence of Miller’s (and designer Philip Prowse’s) vision proves — once its basic tenets are accepted – not just thought-provoking but luminous and compelling.

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This Zurich reading may not be the most distinguished that the production has enjoyed, but is still a worthy representation. Its prime attractions are the radiant Pamina (Malin Hartelius), handsome, free-voiced Tamino (Piotr Beczala), lovably Viennese-accented Papageno (Anton Scharinger) and craggily sonorous Sarastro (Matti Salminen), but there’s no real vocal weakness. Welser-Most conducts a little too briskly, yet the performance certainly moves. And moved me, greatly. A pity that once again a TDK booklet (entirely lacking in cast biography) should be so dismally inadequate. Max Loppert