|About this Recording
8.110127-28 - MOZART: Zauberflöte (Die) (The Magic Flute) (Beecham) (1937-1938)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791): Die Zauberflote
A Singspiel in two acts (K620), to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
This historic version of Die Zauberflote was originally made on 37 78rpm sides in November 1937 and February/March 1938. It was the opera's first complete recording, issued by HMV as the fourth work in the Mozart Opera Society series. Its three predecessors in that series - Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni - had all been made at the recently founded Glyndebourne Festival and were conducted by Fritz Busch. Plans were already afoot in the summer of 1937 to record Die Zauberflote with those same forces when the project was abruptly cancelled. It was not until the following November that John Christie, founder of Glyndebourne, realised why Sir Thomas Beecham had been invited to record the opera with the Berlin Philharmonic and several soloists from the Berlin Staatsoper instead. Christie's fury at this change of plan abated when he eventually heard Beecham's superb interpretation for himself, one which has remained a classic, and against which newer versions are invariably compared.
The recording, made in the fine acoustic of Berlin's Beethovensaal, appears to have been more difficult to complete than the artists expected. Beecham returned to Germany in the late winter of 1938 to continue what he had clearly hoped to finish three months earlier. Even then, he had to leave again before a successful 'take' of the Queen's aria 'O zittre nicht' (CD I track 5) could be made. It was finally recorded on 8th March, conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler, but the performance is certainly none the worse for his four minute contribution. No dialogue was included, and in that respect it differs from many modern versions; but with the set already running to nineteen 12" records, stored in four albums, to have added more must have been considered far too weighty.
If it is Beecham's participation in the recording that makes it hors concours, the contributions of the singers must certainly not be underestimated. It is sometimes suggested that political considerations were a factor in the selection of the cast and that some more celebrated or experienced singers might otherwise have been chosen to take part. Even if this were so, it would have been difficult to better the list of names that can here be heard at the peak of their powers. Lemnitz is a melting Pamina, her shimmering soprano ideal in its purity for the role. Roswaenge is heavier of voice than some of his fellow Taminos, but he displays the elegant ability to combine power with gentleness and gives a masterful performance. What a lovable birdcatcher is Gerhard Husch's Papageno. He springs right out of the grooves to address us face to face - what a way with words he has, what a friend he is! As Queen of the Night, Erna Berger displays her brilliant coloratura to great advantage, even if her timbre is more girlish than the wicked monarch deserves; but how good it is to hear this testing music sung so purely and accurately.
Wilhelm Strienz sings with noble gravity and wisdom. George Bernard Shaw said of him 'With this young singer we have found a Sarastro who is not only able to convey the music of Mozart but he is also the divine in word'* And on the strength of this recording Strienz was engaged to sing the role during Covent Garden's 1938 season.
At the heart of this venture, though, is Sir Thomas. It is his interpretation that still makes this such an important operatic document; his understanding of 'the Mozart style' and his inspiration to the singers and orchestral players. Notwithstanding the contributions of all the other musicians involved and the technical skill of HMV’s engineers, this recording will always, and rightly, be remembered as ‘Beecham’s Zauberflote’.
* Quoted in The Record Collector March 1990
Die Zauberflote was first performed at the Theater auf der Wieden, Vienna on 30th September, 1791.
(including a summary of the omitted dialogue)
 The Overture opens with a series of chords, to which three trombones add ritual solemnity. The slow introduction is followed by a rapid fugal movement, opened by the second violins. Its progress is interrupted by the threefold repetition of three further solemn chords, before the development of the fugal material of the Allegro.
 The scene is a rocky landscape. Tamino, in Japanese hunting dress, comes down from a rock, carrying a bow, but no arrows. He is pursued by a serpent and calls for help, as the serpent is about to seize him. Three Ladies, carrying silver javelins, hurry in, as Tamino falls unconscious at their feet. They kill the monster and vie in admiration for the young man before them. News of his presence must be taken to their mistress, the Queen of the Night, and each in turn expresses a desire to stay with Tamino, while the others go to the Queen. As Tamino comes to his senses and wonders where he is, the Ladies go. The sound of a pipe is heard.
 Papageno, the bird-catcher, comes down the footpath, a curious figure, clad in feathers. He carries a cage on his back, with various birds, and sings and plays the panpipes. His song tells of his life as a bird-catcher, well known to everyone, but wishing he could catch girls and then exchange some for sugar, before settling on one as his companion. (In the following dialogue Tamino answers Papageno's questions about his identity as the son of a prince and Papageno himself boasts that he has killed the serpent and rescued Tamino. Such a lie cannot be tolerated and the three Ladies return, bringing Papageno a suitable reward, water instead of wine, a stone instead of sugar-bread and, instead of figs, a golden padlock to close his mouth. The third Lady tells Tamino that it was they who saved him and gives him a portrait of the great Queen's daughter, Pamina; if the picture pleases him, he shall have fortune and honour.)
 Tamino is bewitched by the portrait and falls in love with the girl there portrayed. (The three Ladies return and tell him that the Queen has heard his words and if he is as brave as he is handsome, her daughter will certainly be saved from the wicked being who holds her captive. Tamino is horrified, but thunder is heard as the Queen of the Night approaches.)  The mountains part and a magnificent room is seen. The Queen is seated on a throne, surrounded by glittering stars. She tells Tamino not to be afraid and goes on to explain her grief at the loss of her daughter, captured by a wicked man; Tamino shall set her free and be united with her. There is a roll of thunder, as she disappears, and the scene is transformed again to what it was before. (Tamino cannot believe what he has seen.)
 Papageno can say nothing, since his mouth is padlocked, and Tamino cannot help him. The three Ladies return, releasing Papageno. Now he can talk, but must never lie again. The first Lady gives Tamino a magic flute, while Papageno is given a set of bells, appointed as he now is to accompany Tamino on his quest. They are told that three boys will appear to them to guide them on their way. The Ladies withdraw, wishing the two farewell.
 The scene changes to a magnificent Egyptian room in the palace of Sarastro. Monostatos and his slaves bring Pamina in and he tells the slaves to chain her, before bidding them be gone. She sinks unconscious on a sofa, while Papageno appears at the window, unseen by the blackamoor Monostatos. When they see one another they are terrified, each thinking the other the Devil, and they both run away. (Papageno is the first to return and finds Pamina recovering her senses. He identifies her from the picture he carries and tells her that Tamino has been charged with her rescue. Suspicious at first, she urges patience when he explains his own search for a companion, a Papagena.)  In a duet Pamina and Papageno sing of the happiness of the union of two lovers.
 The scene is transformed into a grove with three temples. In the centre is the Temple of Wisdom, with a colonnade joining it to the two other temples, on the right the Temple of Reason and to the left the Temple of Nature. Three Boys, each with a silver palm-leaf in his hand, lead Tamino in, telling him that this path will lead to his goal. In reply to Tamino's questions, they can only urge him to be steadfast, patient and silent.
 They leave him and he admires their wisdom. Taking courage, he approaches the right-hand Temple, but a voice bids him back. The same answer comes when he approaches the left-hand Temple, but at the Temple of Wisdom he is met by an old priest, the Speaker, who explains the true nature of Sarastro, about whom Tamino has been deceived. He is told he will find Pamina when the hand of friendship leads him into the place of everlasting union.
 Left alone, Tamino wonders when eternal night will vanish and his eyes see the light. Hidden voices tell him soon, or never, for Pamina still lives. Tamino is encouraged by this reassurance.  He plays his flute, and animals of all kinds come out to listen, until he stops, when they run away. He is amazed at the effect of the magic flute, yet Pamina still does not come. The answering call of Papageno's pipes is heard.
 As Tamino goes out to find him, Papageno and Pamina come in, hurrying to make good their escape. Papageno plays and Tamino's flute is heard in reply. As they are about to find each other, Monostatos and his slaves enter, barring their way and threatening chains and ropes. Papageno saves the situation by playing his magic glockenspiel, which sets Monostatos and the slaves dancing.  Pamina and Papageno understand the world would be a better place, if every honest man had bells like this. The sound of a march is heard and they realise that Sarastro is at hand.
 Sarastro enters with his followers, to the sound of a welcoming chorus.  Pamina falls at his feet, but he bids her rise and assures her that he knows her heart and the love she feels. She must not return to her mother, for a man must guide her heart.  Monostatos appears, dragging Tamino in. Pamina sees in Tamino her true love, and he is amazed to see her. Monostatos tries to part them and explains to Sarastro how Papageno had tried to abduct Pamina but had been foiled by his own cleverness. Sarastro, however, orders his punishment for lying rather than any reward. The chorus applaud his just decision, while Sarastro orders the priests to take Tamino and Papageno to the temple of trial, to be purified, and with heads covered they are led in  The chorus of initiates praises virtue and righteousness, which will make the earth a heavenly kingdom.
 The scene is now a palm-grove. Sarastro and the other priests enter in solemn procession. (Sarastro announces the importance of the occasion, as Tamino seeks enlightenment. In reply to the priests' ritual questions, he assures them that Tamino is virtuous, discreet and beneficent and that Pamina has been chosen as his partner, to be taken away from her mother, who has tried to destroy the Temple The scene is punctuated by the ritual chords of the initiates. Tamino is a prince and, more important, a man. if he perish in the ordeals he must undergo, then he will join the gods Isis and Osiris before they do. Now the priests must teach Tamino and his companion the wisdom and power of the gods.)  He sings a prayer to Isis and Osiris, beseeching the spirit of wisdom for the pair.
The scene changes to the forecourt of the Temple. It is night and thunder is heard. Tamino and Papageno are led in by two priests, who uncover their heads, before leaving them. Tamino urges Papageno to be brave. Two priests appear and question the two, demanding that they keep silent in what follows.  They warn them against women's tricks, the first duty of their band, for many wise men have been deceived by women and ill rewarded. (The priests go out and Papageno calls for light. while Tamino bids him be patient.)
 The three Ladies appear, telling Tamino and Papageno that they will never escape. Tamino tries to prevent Papageno from speaking to them. They tell them, however, that the Queen is at hand in the Temple and that the priests are wicked: whoever joins them will go to Hell Papageno believes them, but Tamino warns him to pay no attention. The three prepare to leave, indignant at Tamino's silence and the relative silence of his companion. There is a cry from within the Temple, that the place has been profaned by the presence of these women. At the sound of thunder and lightning, Papageno falls to the ground in terror. (Tamino is led away by one of the two priests, who now enter, while Papageno is led away by the other, complaining of all the hardship he must undergo to see his Papagena.)
 The scene changes to a garden. Pamina is sleeping in the moonlight, and Monostatos creeps in, intent on stealing a kiss, at the least. He sings of the need for love for all whatever their colour he too has a heart and has every intention of stealing a kiss. (As he approaches, there is a roll of thunder and the Queen of the Night appears, bidding him back. Pamina wakes and greets her mother, falling into her arms, She tells her how the young man sent to rescue her has joined the initiates. The Queen gives Pamina a dagger, sharpened in order to kill Sarastro, whose death she must accomplish and bring her mother the orb of the sun that he wears.)  She sings of the vengeance of Hell that is in her heart. If Pamina does not kill Sarastro, she will, she vows, be an outcast.
(In a clap of thunder the Queen vanishes, leaving Pamina holding the dagger Monostatos offers his help, in return for her favour. At this moment Sarastro appears, sending Monostatos away, to aid the Queen in her evil designs. Pamina pleads for mercy towards her mother, whose fate, Sarastro tells her, she will see.)  He sings of the absence of revenge in these sacred precincts, where love and friendship reign.
The scene changes to a hall into which Tamino and Papageno are led by two priests, to be left again in a silence that Papageno can never keep, although Tamino hushes his every attempt at conversation.
(He remarks on the lack of refreshment, at which an old woman suddenly appears, carrying a large beaker of water. For me?, he asks. Yes, my angel, she tells him. He questions the old woman, discovering her age, eighteen, the age of her lover, ten years older, and his name, Papageno. Thunder sounds and the old woman hurries away, before Papageno can discover her name.)
 The three Boys now return, hovering in the air in a carriage decked with roses. One of them has the magic flute and the other the glockenspiel. They welcome Tamino and Papageno again to Sarastro's kingdom and return to them their instruments A table laden with food appears and they are told to eat' Tamino must have courage and Papageno had better keep quiet' when they appear a third time the two will have their due reward. (Papageno starts eating, while Tamino plays his magic flute. Pamina, who has heard the sound of the flute, joins them, but Tamino will not speak to her, obeying the command of Sarastro.)  Thinking herself rejected, she is distraught and thinks death the only course for her.
(Pamina leaves them and Papageno points out how good he is at keeping silent, as he drinks a toast to Sarastro's cook. The threefold chords are heard, a signal for them to go, but Papageno is reluctant to leave the table. Tamino leaves him, until, in response to his challenge, the lions of Sarastro appear, danger averted, as Tamino returns, playing his flute. The sacred chords sound again and eventually Papageno can be induced to leave the food.)
 Within the Temple the priests and Sarastro are assembled and sing in praise of Isis and Osiris and of the enlightenment that will soon be Tamino's. (Tamino is led in and told by Sarastro that his behaviour has been manly and calm. Pamina is brought in, seeking her Tamino, who must now bid her a last farewell. She makes towards him, but he tells her to keep back.)  To the fears of Pamina, Tamino must now undergo his ordeals, but Sarastro and Tamino are resigned to the will of the gods. The lovers feel the bitterness of parting.
(They go, as Papageno rushes in, afraid that Tamino will leave him. There is a clap of thunder and a voice tells him to draw back, as he approaches the door where Tamino has gone. Lost, he wonders if he will starve to death and the priest who now comes in has little sympathy, since Papageno can never be one of the initiates. Yet all the latter wants is a glass of wine, and immediately wine appears, to his delight, but was that really what he wanted?)  He plays his glockenspiel and realises that what he really wants is a girl or a little wife, then he would enjoy eating and drinking and be truly happy. (As he finishes his song, the old woman hobbles in and he is eventually induced to offer his hand, at which she is transformed into young Papagena, his female counterpart. A priest enters and takes her by the hand, since Papageno is not worthy of her, an intrusion into his family affairs that Papageno resents.)
 The three boys appear for the third time. Now morning has come and the sun travels his golden course: the wise man will soon triumph and the earth will be a heavenly kingdom. Pamina, however, needs their comfort and they move aside, as she rushes in, with a dagger in her hand, her true bridegroom. She intends to die, abandoned, it seems, by her beloved Tamino, the result of her mother's curse. She is about to stab herself, but is restrained by the Boys, who assure her of Tamino's love and promise to lead her to him.
 The scene again changes, now to reveal two mountains, one with a waterfall and the other spitting fire. Two men in black armour lead Tamino in, barefooted, and from their helmets flames burn. The armed men tell of purification through fire, water, earth and air, set free from fear of death and dedicated to the mysteries of Isis. Tamino has no fear of death, but pauses, as he hears the voice of Pamina now she can go with him. The armed men allow him to speak to her and he is happy to go with her, hand in hand, for she too can be an initiate.  The lovers are delighted to be united both in love and in any ordeal to come.  He plays his flute, as they undergo the ordeal of fire. Once they have passed through, they seek help in passing through the water, to end their ordeal unscathed, welcomed by the priests whose voices are heard proclaiming victory.
 Papageno, in the garden where he had been left, forlornly plays his pipe, his Papagena now lost to him. All he can do is hang himself from the nearest tree and this he sets about, saved at the last minute by the three Boys, who urge him to be wise.  He is reminded of his glockenspiel, which he plays, as the Boys lead in Papagena.  The two greet each other hesitantly at first but soon agree on their plans for many children, boys and girls, little Papagenas and Papagenos.
 Into the Temple forecourt creeps Monostatos, with the Queen of the Night and the three Ladies bearing torches. Monostatos expects Pamina as a reward for his treachery, but they are interrupted by the sound of thunder and rushing water. The elements unite against them and their power is destroyed.
 Thunder, lightning and a mighty wind are followed by bright sunshine. Sarastro is seen, with Tamino and Pamina now robed as initiates, by their side the priests and the three Boys. Sarastro sings of the victory of the sun over the night and the priests greet the initiates, offering thanks to Isis and Osiris, as beauty and wisdom finally triumph and all ends in light and happiness
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