Mozart (Die) Zauberflöte

Jacobs continues his Mozart opera series with a disc certain to provoke debate

Author: 
Richard Wigmore
MOZART Die Zauberflöte, Rene JacobsMOZART Die Zauberflöte, Rene Jacobs

MOZART Die Zauberflöte – Jacobs

  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute'

Jacobs sets out his stall in a long booklet essay. His avowed aim is to create for CD a “Hörspiel with music, a play for listening” from Mozart’s “comedy with machines”, as Die Zauberflöte was billed at the first performances. Accordingly, we get theatrical effects aplenty, from thunder and torrents to the slow drip of water in subterranean caves and animated birdsong. More crucially, Jacobs restores virtually every word of Schikaneder’s dialogue (hence the need for three CDs), sometimes eliding speech with music, as when Papageno’s opening song begins under the final words of Tamino’s monologue. The Three Ladies veer between speech and a kind of Sprechgesang, the “altes Weib” sings a grotesque snatch of Ländler before morphing into Papagena. Predictably to anyone who knows Jacobs’s other Mozart recordings, the fortepiano cannot be kept down for long. Keyboard chuckles and flourishes punctuate the opening scene with the Three Ladies. When Papageno checks Pamina’s identity on the basis of her portrait, the fortepiano duly paraphrases the opening of Tamino’s Portrait aria. Soft, slithering arpeggios accompany Monostatos as he approaches the sleeping Pamina in Act 2.

Some may find all this “production” meretricious, gimmicky. With the odd proviso (I could certainly have done without the avian accompaniment to the dulcet wind-band music at the start of the Act 2 finale), I thought it worked brilliantly, enlivening reams of dialogue that, on disc, can all too easily sound tedious to Anglophone (and even to German) listeners. It helps, of course, that the mainly German-speaking cast delivers the dialogue naturally, with wit (the Three Ladies are outstanding), spirit and, in the temple scenes, a welcome lack of orotundity.

As ever, Jacobs favours lively speeds, light articulation and pungent, colourful textures. Horns and trumpets bray incontinently in the Queen of the Night’s “revenge” aria, while the superb Berlin wind players take the fabulous opportunities Mozart offers them with flair and eloquence. He shows a sure control of the ebb and flow of tension in the two long act finales. True to form, though, there are controversial tempo choices and manipulations within a single number – say, in the Act 2 trio for Pamina, Tamino and Sarastro, which races out of the blocks before slowing right down for the final page. Even after several hearings I’m unreconciled to Jacobs’s ultra-jaunty tempo for the luminous, ethereal opening of the Act 1 finale.

As to Jacobs’s cast, more than any version I know, it reminds one that Mozart’s own singers were youthful – Anna Gottlieb, the Pamina, just 17, and even Franz Gerl, the Sarastro, only 26. Those for whom a ripe profundo Sarastro, in the mould of Kurt Moll or René Pape, is a sine qua non will doubtless be disappointed by Jacobs’s choice. But the conductor is evidently concerned to make Sarastro less venerably pontifical, more warmly human than usual; and Marcos Fink’s sympathetic, cleanly produced bass-baritone (though with ample resonance on the low notes) fits his conception well. As his antipode, Finnish soprano Anna-Kristiina Kaappola is a formidably venomous, full-toned Queen of the Night, the diamantine coloratura integrated into the main body of the voice rather than, as so often, a squeaky add-on.

Daniel Behle makes a highly appealing Tamino, singing the Portrait aria gently, as a tender, musing soliloquy, and sensitively conveying the Prince’s journey from confused impetuosity to dawning understanding of the priestly order in his scene with Konstantin Wolff’s kindly, un-hieratic Speaker. Daniel Schmutzhard, with a pleasing lyric baritone, plays a properly ingenuous Papageno, never falling into the trap – in speech or song – of straining too hard for comic effect. Similarly, Kurt Azesberger is a vivid, uncaricatured Monostatos, overseeing a band of very Viennese slaves. The Ladies sing and blend as well as they act, while the trio of boys is less hooty and better tuned than most. The loveliest performance comes from Marlis Petersen’s Pamina, singing with even, pellucid tone, phrasing gracefully and embodying the character’s gradual transformation from girlish innocence, through suffering (her G minor aria mingles vocal poise with uncommon urgency of feeling), to radiant womanhood.

With fierce competition among period-instrument performances alone – Norrington (Virgin, 11/91R), Gardiner (Archiv, 10/96), Östman (L’Oiseau-Lyre, 2/94) and, my own favourite, Christie (Erato, 5/96) all have their claims – to talk of an outright winner is absurd. Jacobs, predictably, can both illuminate and infuriate. But I suspect I shall reach for this new recording as often as any, for its bubbling, crackling theatricality and an eager, yet unforced, sense of fun that never short-changes the opera’s central message of human enlightenment.

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2017