Flute of death and life

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.

1.ladiesCarsen 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?

2.bildnisThere 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.

3.initiatesRattle’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.

4.trialsTechnically 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.


This is a very enjoyable disk and fit to sit alongside my previous favourites from the Royal Opera House and the Salzburg festival.

6.papaI’ve left the images as full size on this post because of the nature of the video direction.  Click on the image to get a much larger version.

10 thoughts on “Flute of death and life

  1. I hadn’t even heard of this “Flute” until now! I’ll have to look for it right away! I’ve heard of one other production that used the concept of Sarastro and the Queen as secret allies (the production that William Christie’s sound recording was based on), but never actually seen that concept before. Yet it makes sense – if you look closely at the libretto, you see that the Queen and the Ladies are probably the most helpful villains in all of opera! Everything they do ultimately effects Tamino and Pamina’s journeys in a positive way!

  2. I really liked this performance a lot when it was on Arte Live (or medici, I forget). And I am glad to see it was issued on DVD. I agree it’s a strong cast and an interesting take on the story –one that really makes modern sense. The same cast (including Annick Massis as the First Lady –it’s kind of fun to have a high-powered trio of ladies, though i felt the either didn’t get much or didn’t accept much stage direction) did a concert performance at the Philharmonie a few weeks later, which is on Digital Concert Hall. There is also Peter Sellars’ moving staging of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (two different performances with virtually the same cast each time.) and some other concert performances of operas, including Salome with Emily Magee. I highly recommend checking DCH out, especially with a free pass.

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