Friday, April 26, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

Pape, van der Walt, Ziesak, Serra, Scharinger,
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Georg Solti
Directed by Johannes Schaaf
Decca, 2 DVDs.

This DVD is from a recording of a performance of The Magic Flute in 1991 at the Salzburg Festival. It has a young cast that performs mostly well but the main drawing card is no doubt Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. The video has some inadequacies and it will not be your first choice of The Magic Flute on DVD but it is decidedly worth seeing.

The singing is uneven if of generally very high quality. Tenor Deon van der Walt is a light-voiced, lyrical and expressive Tamino. However, his hair is pulled back in a pony-tail, his makeup is of uncertain quality and he wears a gown giving him a rather unprincely appearance. His singing saves him.

Soprano Ruth Ziesak as his love Pamina, is comely and affecting. She sings her beautiful aria “Ach, ich fühl’s es ist verschwunden” where she expresses her fear about losing Tamino beautifully and movingly.

A young René Pape sings the heavy role of Sarastro. Pape’s voice sounded a bit light for the role and his youthful appearance did not help. He is in fact six years younger than van der Walt who as Tamino is about to marry Sarastro’s daughter Pamina. Add to that a costume that consisted of skullcap a white jacket and a yellow skirt that made him resemble a Hollywood image of a coolie. He is not responsible for his costume and he does evince paternal love in his great aria “In diesen heil’gen Hallen.”

Bass-baritone Anton Scharinger has the juicy role of Papageno the bird-catcher. He sings well and seems to have the ability to do some comedy but Director Johannes Schaaf simply does not capitalize on it. The scene with the old hag should get a couple of good laughs and so should the hanging section. He barely got a few giggles even before (I assume) a largely German-speaking audience.

The effect that Director Schaaf and Stage and Costume Designers Rolf and Marrianne Glittenberg wanted to produce is not always clear. This may be partially the fault of TV Director Brian Large. Because the production was recorded for the small screen, we get mostly close-ups of the singers and see nothing but darkness in the background. The trees and hedge or the obelisks and some statuary that make up various sets, do not help.

In the opening scene, we see a huge snake towering over Tamino with almost nothing visible in the background. The snake is lowered below stage through a trapdoor and the opportunity for a good laugh when Papageno sees the monster that he killed, is lost.

In Act II, Tamino and Papageno appear wrapped up like mummies. Simple hoods would have done quite nicely. When the Queen of the Night sings “Der Hölle Rache” there is some kind of moving scenery behind her that is difficult to discern.

Soprano Luciana Serra was a show-stealing Queen of the Night. There was some awkward staging with her but she belted her two arias with verve and precision. She has a rich, mellifluous voice that can release notes like missiles.

Solti paces the Vienna Philharmonic deliberately and precisely in a performance that is or was worth the price of admission. When Papageno sings “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” Solti puts his baton down and plays the glockenspiel. Scharinger joins him in the pit in an unusual and memorable scene.

The “shortcomings” no doubt reflect recording for another medium and more than twenty years ago. As I said this should not be your only recording of The Magic Flute but it should be one of them.

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