It’s hard to fault any aspect of the new recording of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte recorded earlier this year at the Baden-Baden festival. The soloists are consistently good, and in some cases very good indeed, Simon Rattle is in the pit with the Berlin Philharmonic and Robert Carsen’s production is beautiful to look at and thought provoking without being pointlessly provocative. Add to that first rate video direction and superb Blu-ray sound and picture quality and one has a disk that looks competitive even in the very crowded market for Zauberflöte recordings.
Carsen sets the piece in a sort of hyper realistic forest formed by a “grass” surround for the orchestra pit and projected foresty backdrops on which other images; the Initiates temple doors, a giant Pamina etc appear as required. It also serves for the world of the Initiation; descended into via the grave. The main Konzept is the idea that the Initiates and the Queen of the Night and her Ladies are really playing on the same team. The piece is about initiation; the transition from childhood to adulthood with all that means in terms of understanding our finite being; death in life, life in death. Crucially this rite of passage must be undergone, each in his/her own way by all the young people; Pamina as much as Tamino, Papagena as much as Papageno. The idea is handled quite subtly and gives much pause for thought. Who or what, for example, is Monostatos?
There is some lovely singing and great acting on this disk. Although it may not be the most sternflammende cast ever committed to disk it is solid or better across the board. Pavol Breslik is a terrific Tamino; sweet toned, stylish and credible (no mean feat with this role), Michael Nagy is just as good as Papageno and Kate Royal is just about perfect as Pamina, singing with a silky creamy tone and making the most of a production that gives Pamina more agency than usual. Ach ich fühl’s is sung about as well as I have ever heard it. I also really liked Ana Durlovski’s very human Königin; not the scariest, most exciting reading ever but accurate and fitting. Add to this an unusually young and virile looking and sounding Dimitry Ivashchenko as Sarastro and the very cute Regula Mühlemann as Papagena and it all adds up to a very strong ensemble cast.
Rattle’s reading is pretty brisk but carefully phrased and achieving great detail and clarity. Needless to say he gets great support from his Berlin Philharmonic. The Rundfunkchor Berlin are no slouches either.
Technically this is a very good effort. Video director Olivier Simonnet does not try to impose himself on the stage direction. This appropriately non interventionist approach is backed up by first class surround sound and a very good picture. There is also some decent bonus material in the form of characteristically insightful interviews with Carsen and Rattle and some interesting backstage footage. The documentation is the standard track listing, synopsis and short essay. My copy also came with a trial pass for the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall. Subtitle options are English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese.