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Die Zauberflöte on Arthaus DVD
by Peter Grahame Woolf


Die Zauberflöte
Deon van der Walt, Ulrike Sonntag, Cornelius Hauptmann, Andrea Frei, Thomas Mohr, Patricia Rozario Chorus and Orchestra of the Ludwigsburger Festspiele Conductor: Wolfgang Gönnenwein
Stage Director: Axel Manthey
Sets & costumes: Alexander Lintl and Axel Manthey Video & TV Director: Ruth Kärch (1992)
Running time 147 mins
Arthaus 100 188

None of the numerous live performances of Die Zauberflöte I have attended has given me greater pleasure than this one watched at home. Its bright colours and naïve simplicity seem to have been conceived with the small screen in mind. Staged at the Ludwigsburg Palace Festival the year after the glut of 1991 bicentenary productions, the warm response of the audience at this live filming leaves no doubt that it worked equally well in a small theatre.

The cast all act as naturally as they sing and we follow the fortunes of Tamino (Deon van der Walt) Pamina (Ulrike Sonntag) and Papageno with real concern that all should come out right for them. They are personable to watch, have beautiful lyric tenor and soprano voices, and give as good accounts of their roles as any I know. The Three Ladies have particularly alluring costumes, and the three winged boys (unnamed, why?) look after Pamina and dissuade Papageno from suicide with endearing solicitude. Thomas Mohr as Papageno is a good companion for Tamino, and for ourselves, his performance the equal of many famous singers who have succeeded Schikaneder in that role. Patricia Rozario, a very popular Britain-based singer, puts in a delightful cameo performance as his feathered mate. We may be offered neither so thrilling a Queen of the Night, nor as sonorous a Sarastro, as some of the great singers on record, but this is not to diminish their contributions; Andrea Frei and Cornelius Hauptmann are perfectly cast and their voices in scale within the domestic scale of Alexander Lintl and Axel Manthey's painterly vision.

Wolfgang Gönnenwein finds exactly the right style and tempo to support the singers and keep the story moving and Axel Manthey's production moves effortlessly between the worlds of fairy tale, humanistic drama and singspiel. It is its miraculous stylistic plurality which made The Magic Flute unassailable as the first great German opera. In England it is often done in the vernacular and the luxury of choice of language for the DVD subtitles gives us the best of all worlds. This DVD can be recommended for musical children as an ideal introduction to Mozart and to opera.

Peter Grahame Woolf is a classical music writer based in London.

© Peter Grahame Woolf 2002.

(originally published in The Opera Critic. Copyright is retained by the author.)


© Peter Grahame Woolf