The Europadisc Review
Mozart - La Flute enchantee (CD + DVD + Blu-ray)
Herve Niquet, Mathias Vidal, Suzanne Jerosme, Marie Gautrot, Melodie Ruvio, Marc Scoffo...
In the words of the late Belgian musicologist Maurice Barthélemy, quoted in the booklet to this enchanting new recording of Mozart’s Magic Flute, ‘Die Zauberflöte presents itself to us as the testament of a century, like an illusion at last, which lacked neither nobility nor grandeur, but which seems to us, today, to have evaporated into the mists of a dream.’ But what if the action itself were a dream – a child’s dream? That’s the main premise of the production by Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek, presented here on both DVD and Blu-ray as well ... read more
In the words of the late Belgian musicologist Maurice Barthélemy, quoted in the booklet to this enchanting new recording of Mozart’s Magic Flute, ‘Die Zauberflöte presents itself to us as the testamen... read more
Mozart - La Flute enchantee (CD + DVD + Blu-ray)
Herve Niquet, Mathias Vidal, Suzanne Jerosme, Marie Gautrot, Melodie Ruvio, Marc Scoffoni, Lisa Mostin, Olivier Trommenschlager, Florie Valiquette, Matthieu Chapuis, Tomislav Lavoie, Matthieu Lecroart, Jean-Christophe Laniece, Pauline Feracci, Le Concert Spirituel
In the words of the late Belgian musicologist Maurice Barthélemy, quoted in the booklet to this enchanting new recording of Mozart’s Magic Flute, ‘Die Zauberflöte presents itself to us as the testament of a century, like an illusion at last, which lacked neither nobility nor grandeur, but which seems to us, today, to have evaporated into the mists of a dream.’ But what if the action itself were a dream – a child’s dream? That’s the main premise of the production by Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek, presented here on both DVD and Blu-ray as well as two CDs, originally created by the Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège and mounted here in the magnificent surroundings of Opéra Royal de Versailles. It’s a child’s dream, however, that does not shy away from the masonic symbolism, philosophical overtones or operatic splendour of the original, but integrates them into what can be seen as a fable related to growing up, or a child’s fertile and fantastic imaginings of the world of grown-ups.
Just as Mozart and his co-creator, the impresario, actor, singer and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, wrote this Singspiel in the German vernacular to appeal to the widest possible audience, so this production is presented in the vernacular of the Versailles audience – French – as La Flûte enchantée, and the transformation is a remarkably satisfying one. For a start, the softer consonants and more luminous vowel sounds endow the sung text with a rapt, limpid quality as well as a wittiness that echoes the world of the French opéra-comique. Even for non-French speakers, the communicative benefits are enormous with a native cast that evidently enjoys itself from start to finish. And no wonder, when the production, beautifully lit by the two producers, with vivid costumes by Sylvie Skinazi and equally striking sets by Élodie Monet, so successfully evokes the world of pantomime and fairy tale, with distinct nods towards the world of Ravel's L’Enfant et les sortilèges and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (or should we say Casse Noisette?).
Musically, too, this is a classy affair, with Hervé Niquet and the chorus and orchestra of his Le Concert Spirituel bringing an invigorating freshness, forthright playing (notably the splendid woodwind and horns) and flowing speeds to this familiar score. Arranged around Niquet in his trademark frock coat, with woodwind at the front of the pit, facing the stage and the conductor’s back, and violins divided antiphonally, the orchestral playing is a constant delight, enhanced by the theatre’s glorious, famed acoustics. Then there’s the cast, headed by Mathias Vidal’s sweet-toned and sweet-natured Tamino in pyjamas as the child-turned prince, Florie Valiquette’s hugely sympathetic Pamina, presented as a stylised doll (à la Olympia in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann), and Marc Scoffoni a brilliantly engaging, funny but pitch-perfect Papageno with something of a white-face clown about him (shades of Pierrot, perhaps, especially in the Act 2 ‘suicide’ aria, but without Pierrot’s ability to keep his silence!). Vidal and Valiquette make a beautiful pair of lovers, with Pamina’s arias in particular endowed with a marvellous radiance.
Lisa Mostin is a formidable Queen of the Night, not the purest-voiced on disc, but with pinpoint coloratura especially in her Act 2 ‘Der Hölle Rache’ (or, as it’s presented here, ‘Que de l’enfer la rage inassouvie’), and an imposing stage presence. Tomislav Lavoie is a noble Sarastro, generous-toned but not too large in voice, and a commanding actor, supported by Matthieu Lecroart as the Speaker. Olivier Trommenschlager’s Monostatos is a classic pantomime villain, grotesque and vagabond-like with a five o’clock shadow, but clearly a figure of fun and no real threat except in a child’s imagination. Pauline Feracci’s vivacious Papagena makes a delightful companion for Papageno, a Pierrette to his Pierrot. The three ladies and three boys (the former emerging as stylised ancient Egyptian mantlepiece figurines, the latter sung by light-voiced women) are all well-cast, while a troupe of acrobats provide further animation of the stage action: mime, tightrope walking, tap-dancing, juggling, and even a pair of unicycles. Contrary to expectation, none of this is in the least distracting but rather enriches the sense of fabulous spectacle, much as the stage machines would have in the original Vienna production.
In this production, Tamino’s flute is a magic tree branch, Papageno’s bells an old-style alarm clock which has about it just the right degree of comic incongruity as well as connecting with the child’s dream world. The various conceits and stage business work brilliantly, though there are some alarming moments such as the emergence of the serpent in Tamino’s nightmare, or the bizarre, spookily spider-like legs that appear towards the end of the Queen of the Night’s Act 2 aria. Then again, there are plenty of magical touches, like the bewigged lantern-bearers processing through the Opéra Royal’s auditorium during the March of the Priests, the live doves that accompany Papageno in Act 1, and the silhouette puppets during the ordeals of fire and water. Some of the speeds may take you aback – not least the contrapuntal duet of the two Armed Men in Act 2 – but it’s all of a piece with the production, which can be enjoyed well enough on CD alone, but is even better with the visuals presented on DVD and Blu-ray. What results is a fable for children of all ages, its musical and psychological insights considerably outweighing the often misogynistic and sometimes racist tone of the original text. Above all, it has abundant life and humanity, which in this of all operas are surely paramount. In other words: enchanting in every way, even if you don’t speak French!
The Spin Doctor Europadisc's Weekly Column
The Shock of the Old (Part 1) 11th May 2021
11th May 2021
To their admirers they are objects of fascination and even veneration, collectible to the point of addiction, while to detractors they are incomprehensible, fatally flawed by inadequate sound quality and mannered, often wayward interpretative traits. Today, with more examples than ever easily available (though with an annoying habit of often being out of the catalogue just when you want a particular one!), historical recordings are big business for such a ‘niche’ market. Vastly improved techniques of sound restoration and pitch correction by specialists including Mark Obert-Thorn and Ward Marston typically remove decades of patina while preserving those qualities that make each example so special, from peculiarities of interpretation to the distinctiveness of timbre and balance. Dedicated labels including (to name but a few) Naxos Historical, Testament Records, Eloquence... read more