« »

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: The Magic Flute CD Chandos 2005

Mozart: The Magic Flute (CD)


BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Month, June 2005
Opera Magazine Disc of the Month, June 2005

Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor Sir Charles MacKerras
Pamina: Rebecca Evans
Queen of the Night: Elizabeth Vidal
Papagena: Lesley Garrett
Tamino: Barry Banks
Papageno: Simon Keenlyside
Sarastro: John Tomlinson
First Lady: Majella Cullagh
Second Lady: Sarah Fox
Third Lady: Diana Montague
Monostatos: John Graham-Hall
Speaker, Armed Man, First Priest: Christopher Purves
Armed Man, Second Priest: Peter Bronder
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Label Chandos
Code CHAN3121
Released March 7, 2005.
Recorded in Blackheath Halls, London, 4-10 November 2004
Number of discs 2

See also Mozart: Die Zauberflote, DVD, BBC/Opus Art OA0885D, 2003


What the critics say

Tim Ashley, The Guardian, Friday April 8, 2005

Truth, even though it be a crime

A comparison between the Chandos Magic Flute and first commercial release of Joseph Keilberth’s West German Radio production of Die Zauberflöte broadcast in 1954.

“Erich Kunz (Keilberth) is very much the endearing proletarian clown, while Simon Keenlyside (Mackerras) is a sadder, put-upon, more troubling figure.”


Hugh Canning for The Times.

Classical CD of the Week: Mozart: The Magic Flute.

Five star rating

”This set is the best argument I have heard in ages for the Royal Opera to perform Mozart’s great vernacular Singspiel in English. Rebecca Evans (Pamina) and Simon Keenlyside (Papageno) sang in Covent Garden’s recent revival, as did John Graham-Hall (Monostatos), and they are even better here in their own language, particularly in Jeremy Sams’s witty dialogue. Mackerras, who conducted, is perhaps the world’s wisest and most inquiring Mozartian, and here he gets playing of magical transparency from the LPO, highlighting the wind solos and bringing a sense of wonder to the music now rarely experienced in the theatre. As at Covent Garden, his tempi seem on the whole ideally judged, but his brisk “walking pace” for Pamina’s great G minor lament makes you sit up with a jolt. He justifies it in the booklet, and Evans sings it ravishingly. It is good to have Keenlyside’s wonderfully human Papageno preserved on disc, and John Tomlinson’s authoritative Sarastro and Barry Banks’s lyrical Tamino are superior to their German-language RO counterparts. Elisabeth Vidal is a fiery Queen of the Night, only betraying her French nationality in her slightly accented dialogue.


Robert Levine for ClassicsToday


Needless to say, if it’s Magic Flute in English you’re looking for, this will be your recording of choice. But even if it’s just another recording of this opera you want, this one has plenty to offer. Charles Mackerras’ leadership is simply ideal: he prefers quick tempos, but there’s never a sense of being rushed (save in Pamina’s second-act aria, although after less than a minute into it, it seems right), and I like the way the Three Ladies don’t linger and swoon over Tamino. They’re always businesslike, and a fine trio they are: Sarah Fox, Majella Cullagh, and Diana Montague. Mackerras works the finales particularly well, with an organic sense of build-up. There are brief embellishments added for the soloists, and they fit perfectly. The London Philharmonic and Geoffrey Mitchell Choir play and sing naturally, and overall the opera comes across as a grand popular entertainment, just as it was meant to, with only enough spoken dialogue to keep the plot clear.

The individual singers are a mixed lot. John Tomlinson is sounding quite long-in-the-tooth as Sarastro, with a wobble that is uncomfortable; but the dark, resonant tone is still something to hear and he fills each (understandable) phrase with meaning. As his problem soprano, Elizabeth Vidal is a good, weighty Queen, but she sings too cautiously at times to be truly effective. On the other hand, Rebecca Evans is a shining Pamina, with several gradations between pianissimo and forte, and she also phrases elegantly. Barry Banks’ Tamino is ardent and clear, with dignified, princely delivery and tone. Not enough good things can be said about Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno: from his delightful entrance aria, through his trials and blunders, to his scenes with the lovely, colorful Lesley Garrett as Papagena, he’s soulful and warm, and he sings beautifully. The Three (unnamed) Boys are wonderfully otherworldly, John Graham-Hall is a funny, menacing Monastatos, and Christopher Purves is an imposing Speaker. This is a fine performance, in excellent sound, with nice stage effects.


Henry Fogel, Fanfare Magazine, Issue 29:1, Sept/Oct 2005 [extracts]

“This may be the finest release yet in Chandos’s “Opera in English” series: an opera that is singularly appropriate for English-language performance in a recording that is worthy of comparison with most of its German-language predecessors. I enjoyed this Flute enormously, in part because of Jeremy Sams’s delightful, witty translation and in part because this is a first-rate performance in almost every way.”

“Keenlyside is one of the most engaging Papagenos ever—funny and human at the same time, and always deeply musical. Banks sings a lovely, secure Tamino without the unique tonal beauty of Wunderlich, but technically and musically strong as well as dramatically persuasive. Evans is an almost perfect Pamina, floating soft tones effortlessly and singing with real urgency. She and Mackerras make something memorable of “Ach! Ich fuhls” at the conductor’s quicker-than-normal tempo, and throughout she convinces you of the genuineness of Pamina’s predicament. John Tomlinson may not have the huge, rich bass voice of some memorable Sarastros, and an occasional unsteady moment reminds one that he has been singing for about 30 years now. But compensating is both the vocal and dramatic gravitas he brings to the part—this is a real priest, not a bass with two beautiful arias (as is often the case). If you want to know what the word “authoritative” means when applied to operatic performance, listen to Tomlinson here.

The rest of the cast is quite consistently good. Lesley Garrett, a popular soprano with a crossover career, is particularly vivid as Papagena, and the three ladies are superbly cast. Sufficient dialogue is included to keep the story intact, but it is trimmed significantly (not, in my view, a negative). The singers apply appoggiaturas and occasional ornamentation. In general, the recorded sound is admirable, with good balance and perspective, though something a bit drier would have made more of the words audible. Occasionally the producers go overboard with the thunderous sound effects. Chandos includes a very penetrating, informative essay about the opera by Rodney Milnes, along with a plot summary and a complete English libretto.”

“This is a superb effort—one of the most persuasive recordings in any language of Mozart’s masterpiece. Unless you are for some reason allergic to the idea of The Magic Flute in English, this can be recommended with enthusiasm.”


Hugh Canning for Opera, June 2005

It says a lot about the state the record industry is in-or at least the big, international, starry end of it-that the Royal Opera’s recent Zauberfloete conductor, Pamina, Papageno and Monostatos are here on the latest Chandos Opera-in-English issue. Mackerras, of course, has recorded this opera before in the original German for Telarc (1991), but his English-language cast-singing Jeremy Sams’s still lively and witty version of the libretto is in almost every respect superior. Indeed, this is one the most desirable sets in Chandos’s admirable series, worthy to stand comparison with some of the classic accounts in the original German. Mackerras is relatively rare among senior conductors in that he has flirted with the period- instrument movement in Mozart, and his conducting combines the best of that world-fleet, athletic tempos, transparent textures, wonderfully explosive drum strokes in the overture-with the wisdom of an oldstager who knows that not all of the socalled ‘Viennese’ Mozart tradition is ripe for the scrapheap.

The London Philharmonic is ever alert and responsive to his brisk allegros and jaunty andantes; only his tempo for Pamina’s lament sounds hurried to my old-fashioned ears, but Mackerras argues for it persuasively in a thoughtful and scholarly booklet essay. Rebecca Evans negotiates what in Mackerras’s hands is a florid aria with pristine effortlessness and consistent radiance of tone; this is a wholly lovely performance. Indeed, her Pamina is even better in English than it was in German at Covent Garden. The same goes for Simon Keenlyside’s worldclass Papageno, a vernacular performance sure in the Schikaneder tradition of clownishness and pathos.

Of the other principals, John Tomlinson is in such fine voice, his basso profundo notes properly resonant, that one wonders why he wasn’t preferred by Covent Garden to any of their recent German Sarastros. His diction, as one might expect, is superb, even if he sounds less comfortable than, say, Keenlyside or Evans in the spoken dialogue. John Graham-Hall, an ENO and Covent Garden Monostatos, goes way overboard in presenting a melodramatic villain, but vividly so; he sings his masterly little aria ‘All the world is always lusting’ (purged of its racist overtones) dazzlingly, at a hair-raising speed.

If Barry Banks’s slightly nasal Tamino and Elisabeth Vidal’s thinnish Queen of Night are not quite in the same league, they are both musical and accurate, and Vidal’s only slightly Francophone English rarely obtrudes. An excellent trio of Ladies, girlishsounding’ Boys’, and Christopher Purves and Peter Bronder as Speaker, Priests and Armed Men round off a well-chosen cast. A real winner.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment