MOZART: The Magic Flute, with Fritz Wunderlich/Bernard Haitink (1958) – Myto (2 discs)

by | Oct 31, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MOZART: Die Zauberfloete, K. 620 – Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (Tamino)/ Albert van Naasteren, bass (Sarastro)/ Maria van Dongen, soprano (Pamina)/ Juliane Farkas, soprano (Queen of the Night)/ Jan Dirksen, baritone (Papageno)/ Nel Duval, soprano (Papagena)/ Reinier Schweppe, tenor (Monostatos)/ Radio Opera Choir and Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Amsterdam/ Bernard Haitink – Myto (2 CDs) 00278, 64:10; 68:22 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
What a delight to find an unearthed performance (24 May 1958) of Mozart’s singspiel The Magic Flute (1791) by the late lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) with an all-Dutch cast under the masterly direction of Bernard Haitink (b. 1929)!  Wunderlich’s effortless grace in all issues Mozart hardly needs confirmation by an extended review: his Tamino combines naïve credulity with an ardent enthusiasm for life and love. Juliane Farkas brings the dark demonism to her Queen of the Night required to offset the Masonic humanitarianism of Sarastro. Her “Der Hoelle Rache” climbs to the high F with that seamless authority and piercing vengeance we know from Rita Streich.   Albert van Naasteren intones the mighty Sarastro with warm, avuncular authority; and his occasional low F provides a foil for the over-reaching hubris of the Queen. The loving if ingenuous pair Papageno and Papagena achieve that happy blend of humor and gentle pathos as star-crossed peasants caught in emotion that elevates them both, despite their having rejected the “initiation rites“ proper. The over-riding sentiment of the opera, to “make the Earth a Heavenly kingdom and mortals akin to the gods” finds expression in the sung couplet that concludes both acts of the opera.
The real clue in this outstanding performance—no less from a sonic point of view—remains conductor Haitink.  Too often criticized in his early days his “metronomic accuracy,” Haitink maintains absolute clarity of ensemble, and the singers’ diction has rarely resounded so cleanly, in humor as  in pathos. The scene in Act II (“Wie? Wie? Wie? ihr an diesem”) between the Spirit Women, Papageno, Tamino and the Chorus flows with fluid buoyancy, poignant and deliciously pointed. A pleasant discovery is tenor Schweppe’s Monostatos, whose spirit moves from a longing for individualism to abject moral slavery. Whatever the trappings and machinery of Masonic “faith,” the opera endures as a marvelous vehicle for romance and spiritual transcendence. If bird-catching becomes a metaphor for a burgeoning Rousseau-esque Romanticism, the conceit is so well concealed by Mozart’s seamless genius for melody and rhythmic infectiousness that scholastic pedantry yields to effervescent spontaneity. Of course, we seek this set for the eternal energy and youth of Fritz Wunderlich, whose silver voice-—what one music-lover called “Tauber reborn!”—remains the most magic flute of all.
—Gary Lemco

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