Joan Sutherland

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

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Let's say you were in London on business in early January 1962 and you just happened to get tickets for the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and all you knew about the performance was that it was Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. The first thing you saw was the giant conductor Otto Klemperer enter the orchestra pit and challenge the English musicians to do better than their best. And although they are ragged at times, the players were so clearly in awe of their conductor that they give him everything they had in an overture of considerable polish and strength. Then tenor Richard Lewis took the stage and his Tamino turned out to be terrible. Hard on top, too loud in the middle, and weak in the bottom, Lewis is anything but a lyric hero. Things got worse when baritone Geraint Evans joined Lewis and his Papageno turned out to be awful. Broad to the point of caricature with a blustery voice and a bluff delivery, Evans comes far too close to a parody, and, to add insult to injury, the audience loves him. But then Joan Sutherland -- the young Joan Sutherland -- made her entrance as the Queen of the Night and everything else ceased to matter. In early 1962, Sutherland was just back from her triumphant La Scala debut and her fame in her home country was enormous. And entirely understandable: as the Queen of the Night, Sutherland's charisma is palpable. Her voice -- clear, agile, powerful, and supernaturally brilliant -- is made for the part, and she sings with fluency that makes you forget all about technique and concentrate on the incandescent beauty of her voice. Although Klemperer remains a tower of strength and the rest of the cast remains variable -- Hans Hotter is magnificent as the Speaker and Joan Carlyle's Pamina is attractive enough, but Jenifer Eddy's Papagena is nearly as bored as Evans' Papageno, which while it may be appropriate, is by no means appealing -- Sutherland's Queen of the Night all by itself made the evening truly memorable. Golden Melodram's live monaural sound is gray and dim and filled with audience noise.

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