The Magic Flute
Rebecca Evans, Elizabeth Vidal, Majella Cullagh, Sarah Fox, Diana Montague, Lesley Garrett, Barry Banks, Simon Keenlyside, John Tomlinson, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, LPO, Charles Mackerras
Chandos CHAN 3121
Of all repertoire operas, none gains more than The Magic Flute from performance in the language of the audience. Jeremy Sams’s translation is deft yet never self-consciously clever, and the cast (all British except for Elizabeth Vidal’s Gallic Queen of the Night) speak the dialogue so engagingly that it emerges naturally from the musical numbers. Indeed, contrary to the usual feeling with other recordings that the dialogue had been insufficiently trimmed, I actually wished more of it were included.
Musically, the performance is hard to fault. Charles Mackerras has already revealed an unerring feeling for the pacing and colour of Mozart‘s sublime Singspiel on his Telarc recording (in German) and, more recently, at Covent Garden. As on the Telarc set, he uses modern instruments (valveless brass and gunfire period timpani excepted) with a keen sense of Classical style. Articulation is light and buoyant, tempos mobile yet never driven or inflexible, textures sharp and transparent. In no other recording I know are you so aware of the originality of Mozart’s scoring, whether in the austere, hieratic colouring (trombones and basset-horns to the fore) of the music for Sarastro and the priests at the start of Act II, the manic glitter of Monostatos’s aria or the ethereal, other-worldly sonorities in the music for the Three Boys.
Rebecca Evans, a richer-toned Pamina than usual, movingly portrays her development from ingénue to a woman ‘worthy to attain the light’. She vindicates Mackerras’s controversially fast speed for her G minor aria (familiar from his Teldec recording) in a performance that suggests real passion and anguish rather than the more usual resigned grief. As at Covent Garden, Simon Keenlyside is a marvellous Papageno, innocent, vulnerable and funny without clownishness. He also sings the part supremely well, with warm, firm tone and a true legato in, say, his duet with Pamina, ‘A man in search of truth and beauty’ (aka ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’).
Barry Banks, likewise careful to maintain an even legato line, sings a positive, un-wimpish Tamino. With his rugged, rolling bass John Tomlinson creates a formidably imposing yet humane Sarastro, while Elizabeth Vidal atones for some cloudy diction with fiery, bang in-tune performances of the Queen of the Night’s arias. The other roles, all expertly done, include a notably sexy and witty trio of Ladies, Christopher Purves’s refreshingly youthful, un-pompous Speaker (no suggestion here of a pensioned-off Sarastro) and a frenetic but uncaricatured Monostatos from John Graham-Hall.
As ever with Chandos’s Opera in English series the presentation is lavish, with full text and illuminating essays by Rodney Milnes and Mackerras himself. For The Magic Flute in German, I’d recommend the luminous period-instrument version from William Christie over the Mackerras/Telarc, which is rather let down by Barbara Hendricks’s pretty but bland Pamina. But this new performance, beautifully recorded, with a modicum of well-judged sound effects, catches the work’s fairytale wonder, solemnity and fun as fully and delightfully as any, irrespective of language.
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