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Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times, July 2005

Next year Hans Werner Henze will turn 80, and he is getting a lot of attention. "L'Upupa" ("The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love," to give it its full title in English), which premiered at the Salzburg Festival two summers ago, is his latest and, he says, last opera. It is a smashing success, currently being mounted in Lyon, France, and scheduled to be seen all over Europe. This DVD documents the beautiful Salzburg production, by director Dieter Dorn and designer J├╝rgen Rose, and was beautifully filmed for television.

A Middle Eastern fairy tale opera with an affectionate nod to Mozart's "Magic Flute," "L'Upupa" doesn't compromise Henze's overly generous musical style (a lot goes on in the orchestra all the time) but is also movingly generous of spirit and often just plain gorgeous. The winning performance includes John Mark Ainsley as an irresistibly cranky angel, Laura Aikin as the stunningly athletic heroine and the wide-eyed, captivating Matthias Goerne as the hero.

Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, June 2005

Over a wonderfully iconoclastic career, Henze has often downplayed his Germanic birthright in favor of Italianate lyricism and Stravinskyian piquancy. For his operatic finale, the 78-year-old composer returned to a German tradition, specifically, "The Magic Flute." Henze's score reverberates with his modern spin on Mozart's ceremonial music, and the libretto -- by Henze, after Arabic folk tales -- echoes the earlier opera's quests and trials, all in the name of spiritual growth and faithful, selfless love.

German baritone Matthias Goerne, not only a top singer of lieder but an experienced Papageno, takes the role of Kasim, the virtuous son of three sent on a mission to return a beloved hoopoe bird to their ailing father. Goerne's voice sounds as sonorous as ever, even if his body language isn't always naturally theatrical. The characters Kasim meets along his picaresque quest are ingeniously embodied, particularly an otherworldly John Mark Ainsley as Kasim's guardian Demon and the beautiful Laura Aikin as Badi'at, Kasim's Pamina and Papagena rolled into one.

The Salzburg Festival production was staged with vivid colors and shapes, simultaneously ravishing and threatening in the classic fairy tale way. (A scene with Kasim and Badi'at trapped in a deep well is particularly spooky.) Henze's orchestration matches the sets and costumes in kaleidoscopic, contrapuntal atmosphere, and there's a blue-hued orchestral coda that serves as Henze's long good-bye to his operatic art. The picture and surround sound for this 143-minute DVD are state-of-the-art.

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10:16:57 PM, 2 September 2015
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