The Magic Flute/Abbado

0 of 5 stars

Die Zauberflöte, K620

Tamino – Christoph Strehl
Pamina – Dorothea Röschmann
Papageno – Hanno Müller-Brachmann
Papagena – Julia KleiterQueen of the Night – Erika Miklósa
Sarastro – René Pape
Monostatos – Kurt Azesberger
Three ladies – Caroline Stein, Heidi Zehnder & Anne-Carolyn Schlüter
Three boys – Alexander Lischke, Frederic Jost & Niklas Mallmann
Et al

Arnold Schoenberg Choir

Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Claudio Abbado

Recorded September 2005, Teatro Comunale, Modena

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: DG 477 5789 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes

This set represents not only a wonderful way for Deutsche Grammophon to celebrate Mozart’s 250th-birthday, but also the return to opera recording by Claudio Abbado, who hasn’t committed a stage-work to disc since his Berliner Philharmoniker recording of Verdi’s “Falstaff” (for the Verdi centenary) in 2001 (with Bryn Terfel, as with his “Don Giovanni” in 1998 before that). Of course, DG, especially on DVD, has been releasing older recordings, but seemingly was not present to catch Peter Stein’s production of “Parsifal”, which is the only other operatic project Abbado has been engaged on since leaving Berlin.

As is well known, Abbado has recovered from cancer and it is easy to understand that an opera about rites of passage may have appealed to him. What the CD issue doesn’t relate at any point in its documentation (in the booklet or on DG’s ‘microsite’ devoted to the recording on the web) is that “The Magic Flute” was something of a family affair, as the stage production from which this recording was taken, live in Modena, was directed by Abbado’s son, Daniele. From the photographs (again not credited, apart from the cover photo) it looks a rather stylised production with distinctive designs (for the record, by Graziano Gregori, set, and Carla Teti, costumes) and patrons get a chance to sample it live at the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival.

Certainly the recording seems effortlessly well honed, as one would expect from a working stage production, even though only occasionally betraying its ‘live’ state with audience recognition of comic action. One gets the impression that Abbado fils has followed his father in a subtly serious reading of the score, rather than veering to the overly comic. Only the old woman (who tells Papageno that she is his lover, the bird-catcher not knowing that it is really the Papagena he is yet to meet) sounds to British ears rather overtly caricatured in her forced croaking, but that seems to be a Germanic – if not European – tradition for the scene (Haitink’s Bavarian recording is very similar).

In all other respects this new “Magic Flute” seems ideal. Nicely caught by the microphones, with dialogue not outstaying its welcome, and a musical performance, first and foremost by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, utterly alive to Abbado’s direction. Not as fast-paced as Roger Norrington’s controversial recording (now on Virgin classics; although, I have to say, not controversial in my book, as it too is wonderfully alert to the possibilities of the score and doesn’t, especially on rehearing, sound forced at all), nor as respectful as Haitink, Abbado manages to treat the orchestral writing with the lightest of touches and with enough gravitas when needed.

In this his young cast equally matches Abbado, with brightness and utmost clarity being the keywords. Always at ease with young performers (the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is the crème de la crème of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Abbado chooses singers most of whom are under 40 (René Pape is probably oldest, born in 1964). All are perfect in their roles. The chorus, equally persuasive, is another of Abbado’s regular collaborators, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir.

I suspect that is the key. Abbado is now able to choose his projects carefully and he revels in working with friends and family. As such he is perhaps recreating the very genesis of the work, with Mozart and Schikaneder creating their labour of love in the fervent surroundings of a company of artists. It definitely shows and this new release will certainly give recurring pleasure.

Packaged in a double jewel-case, with a well-documented booklet including a note by Julian Rushton, main singers’ biographies and a clearly laid-out libretto and translations, this is not only handsome to listen to, but also in presentation.

No hesitation then – a whole-hearted recommendation. It may not dislodge your favourite recording (most have starrier casts – for example Norrington boasting Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Dawn Upshaw, Andreas Schmidt, Cornelius Hauptman, Beverly Hoch and Olaf Bär, while Haitink amasses Siegfried Jerusalem, Lucia Popp, Wolfgang Brendel, Roland Bracht, Edita Gruberova and Norman Bailey). But you will want Abbado for his humanity and honesty.

Daniele Abbado’s production is remounted for Edinburgh this year (31 August and 2 September), and is slated for a major European tour in 2007.

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