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Bill White
Fanfare, September 2011

This performance of The Magic Flute was reviewed a little more than a year ago in the magazine by Barry Brenesal (Fanfare 33:3) when it was issued on another label, and since I agree with most of his comments I will summarize them here. Staging by director Benno Besson is very intelligent and imaginative, featuring appealing sets and costumes that make additional magic of their own. The music-making of conductor Iván Fischer and the Paris National Opera Orchestra is very fine and one of the highlights of the set. Filming for DVD is done well and the sound in either LPCM stereo or DTS 5.1 is first-rate. Brenesal rates the cast as good to excellent with Désirée Rancatore’s Queen of the Night and Dorothea Röschmann’s Pamina the best, and Detlef Roth singing well, but lacking the charm and humor of a really top-notch Papageno. Piotr Beczala as Tamino and Matti Salminen as Sarastro are characterized as performing competently while suffering a few rough patches, and Brenesal does not care for the singing or acting of Uwe Peper in the rather minor role of Monostatos. In conclusion, Brenesal rates this set highly, as a production to be seen and treasured.

While I also think this is one of the top sets on video I am a little more troubled by the less than scintillating Papageno than Brenesal. To me the feathery bird-catcher is integral to the great charm of this, one of Mozart’s finest operas, and the performance of the role can help make the Flute very magical indeed or quite a bit less so, especially for younger viewers. Here, although Roth sings with a fine voice, that last bit of magic and charisma is unfortunately wanting. I would also move Beczala up a notch and Rancatore down a notch in the singer ratings. To my ear, Beczala’s rendition of Tamino’s act I aria “Dies Bildnis” is one of the best I have heard since Fritz Wunderlich set the standard so high so long ago, and Beczala continues at that level throughout. Rancatore, in the specialty role of the Queen, hits all the notes of her two fiendishly difficult arias, but doesn’t get through them quite cleanly, and she looks rather ridiculous in the parachute-like robe and much too young to be Pamina’s mom.

This current Paris rendition has many fine features and can hold its own with those others, but in my judgment ranks no better. To be seen then, certainly, but perhaps not quite to be treasured.

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