From fairy tale to great opera: With Die Zauberflöte Mozart made the step from simple Singspiel to a full-blown German opera, thus laying the foundations for an independent opera culture in the German language. The 1973 Electrola recording combines a truly legendary vocal ensemble, featuring first and foremost Edda Moser, whom many people still regard as the best Queen of the Night of all time, Walter Berry as a Papageno oozing Viennese charm, Anneliese Rothenberger as the enchanting Pamina and Peter Schreier as her loving Tamino.
This will be the Magic Flute chosen by most people who want to live with just one. It finds Georg Solti in a relatively relaxed state of mind, with an excellent if not particularly famous cast, and an orchestra and chorus that any conductor would give his left arm (not the one that welds the baton) to work with. The singers are not particularly well-known (London seems to have set up Solti as the star of this production) but a lack of celebrity attitudes and close attention to the conductor have paid substantial dividends in this production. Sumi Jo, in a spectacular and dramatic performance of the Queen of the Night's two arias, attracts special attention, as do Uwe Heilmann (Tamino) and Michael Kraus (Papageno). –Joe McLellan
Originating by way of an Aix-En-Provence Festival staging, William Christie and his Arts Florissants bring dramatic flair and musical panache to Mozart's great late Singspiel in equal measure. To begin with, there's a dream cast led by the alluring pairing of Hans Peter Blochwitz as Tamino and Rosa Mannion as Pamina. Anton Scharinger makes for an earthy Papageno, Reinhard Hagen is a commanding Sarastro, whilst Natalie Dessay's input as Queen of the Night comes over in both her showpiece arias as steadfast and electrifying. The casting in depth continues: rare is a Magic Flute that can boast singers of the calibre of Willard White and Linda Kitchen in the relatively small roles of Speaker and Papagena. Then, the uniformly warm vocal blend is homogeneously matched, note for note, with the gut strings and less aggressive winds of Les Arts Florissants. Not that there's anything limp or lacklustre about Christie's brisk tempi; whilst sharp editing maintains the theatrical urgency. The melliflously played "magic" flute and exact keyed glockenspiel input for Papageno's bells are further examples of the care which has gone into this state of the art "authentic" interpretation. With a work like The Magic Flute, recorded choices are voluminous. Neville Marriner with his Academy of St Martins-in-the-Fields on Phillips puts in a brave showing, but William Christie maybe wins out in a thorough interpretation which simultaneously celebrates the opera's joy and mystery. –Duncan Hadfield
Die Zauberflöte is the artistic and philosophical testament of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died a few weeks after the work’s première in Vienna. Intertwining music of awesome purity and beauty with the conventions of the singspiel - a popular form of musical comedy – Mozart’s final operatic legacy to the world explores Man’s search for the truth and his confusion between the forces of dark and light and the final utopian resolution of seemingly irreconcilable elements. Because of the opera’s relationship to freemasonry, commentators have identified Tamino with the Emperor Joseph II, Pamina with the Austrian people, Sarastro with Ignaz von Born, Monostatos with the clergy and the Queen of the Night with the Empress Maria Theresa. Whichever level one approaches Die Zauberflöte on, it remains a great work in the spirit of the Enlightenment as well as a delightful fairy-tale. Nothing is so simple as to be absolutely clear-cut. In life, the serious and the comic often intermingle in a way that is disconcerting. In Die Zauberflöte, Mozart succeeds in combining these two elements in a way which has never been surpassed. The light and vibrant presentation of the Scandinavian cast - internationally renowned bass Lászlo Polgár is the only non-Scandinavian soloists – the authentic staging and the lean orchestra sound conducted by the illustrious Arnold Östman makes this performance definitely one of the best Zauberflöte-performances of the 20th century.
For anyone compiling a directory of the ‘greatest recordings’ of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra some nominations are easy to classify. Sir Thomas Beecham’s 1937/8 Berlin recording of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is certainly one of them. Originally re-mastered in 1991 it is pleasing to have this Nimbus set available in the catalogue…
– Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Mozart was always an important and regular feature of Solti's career as conductor in the opera house and concert hall as well as in the recording studio and also as a pianist, and at the start of his career he participated in performances of Die Zauberflöte at Salzburg under Toscanini in 1937. Solti conducted Die Zauberflöte himself at Salzburg in 1956 to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart's birth and again in 1991 when he made his second recording of the opera. Solti's first recording of Die Zauberflöte was made in Vienna in 1969 and was his first complete Mozart opera recording.
This Magic Flute (part of the M22 project) is charming and delightful, a sheer joy. It achieves just the right balance between the fairytale and spiritual elements of the singspiel and is brimming with inventiveness. The bright pop-up-book colours and toyshop imagery perfectly represent the pantomime aspect of this "magic opera" which meshes well with the altogether more serious business of Sarastro's realm of Enlightenment wisdom. I love the burlesque touches which occur throughout and the comic scenes around Papageno which make this such a happy and constantly droll performance…
Riccardo Muti conducts the ever-wonderful VPO at a good pace and with a transparency that brings out the finest touches of orchestral detail.
One of the giants of the historically informed performance world needs little introduction; nor indeed his sympathy to Mozart’s oeuvre as already demonstrated in recordings of the three da Ponte operas that have met with wide acclaim and many awards for their closely observed intimacy, their sense of fun and drama and their well-chosen casts, at one with Kuijken’s vision of these jewels of human and music drama.
Covent Garden’s 2003 production of The Magic Flute , designed by John F. Macfarlane, directed by David McVicar, and conducted by Sir Colin Davis, is magnificent from a strictly musical standpoint. More than that, it’s vastly entertaining. The comedic elements of the story integrate far more comfortably than is often the case with Schikaneder’s high-minded (if vague) theme of a quest for enlightenment, particularly in the second act. Visually, the production is a feast, yet it doesn’t distract from the music. The intention was to maintain an 18th-century feel but to play freely with that aesthetic…
What begins like a fairy-tale turns into a whimsical fantasy halfway between magic farce and Masonic mysticism: The Magic Flute links a love story with the great questions of the Enlightenment, juxtaposes bird-catcher charm with queenly vengeance, and bewitches the listener with music that mixes cheerful melodies, lovers’ arias, show-stopping coloraturas and mysterious chorales.