Record review: 'Magic Flute' release hits all the right notes

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Coincidentally released around the time of Pittsburgh Opera's "The Magic Flute," which opens at the Benedum Center Saturday, this unusual production by Canadian director Robert Carsen keeps most of the traditional elements while updating the original exotic setting to a contemporary forest in which those who aspire to Sarastro's Temple of the Sun must submit to ordeals that include the terrors of the dead and the pain of losing the one you love. All ends happily, however, with good triumphing over evil, and wisdom over ignorance.

Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:
Mozart: "The Magic Flute."
Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival 2013.

(1 DVD/Blu-ray)


"The Magic Flute" is simple enough to reach a child yet deep enough to challenge a philosopher. For this reason, it lends itself to a broad variety of stagings and interpretations.

This April 2013 production was the first live performance of the work by the Berlin Philharmonic, which had made the first studio recording in 1937, and marks that orchestra's debut in its new second home at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival.

The visuals are indeed compelling, but first and foremost, this is a spectacular musical realization of Mozart's masterpiece. The real star is the orchestra itself, a gorgeous collective instrument under its music director Simon Rattle: plush and songful yet always crisp and transparent.

The cast is an A-list of today's singers. As the prince Tamino, Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik is handsome in voice and mien, his portrait aria honey-toned and full of romantic yearning. Kate Royal, his princess Pamina, is physically vulnerable but juicy in tone. Ana Durlovski's mean Queen of the Night scales the vocal heights, nailing all the high Fs, while Dimitry Ivashchenko's Sarastro plumbs resonantly the lower ends of the human voice. In this context, Michael Nagy's happy hobo Papageno runs through the entire tale as a compelling catalyst for the serious messages contained within the comedy. Luxury casting extends to the starry trio of the Queen's ladies: Annick Massis, Magdalena Kozena and Nathalie Stutzmann, blending in perfect harmony and selfless ensemble.

-- Robert Croan

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