René Jacobs / Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

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With Die Zauberflöte, René Jacobs continues his exemplary traversal of Mozart operas, having already recorded the da Ponte operas, La Clemenza di Tito, and Idomeneo. Jacobs has not only a formidable knowledge of historically informed performance practice, but a bold inventiveness and originality, and in the comedies, a bubbling, earthy wit. He is a master of comic timing, and there are many moments in Die Zauberflöte when he gives a lift or a pause to a phrase that's generally treated as routine, and spotlights a significant gleam of mirth or insight that might easily have gone unnoticed. For any listener who has loved this opera but has become jaded from overexposure to run-of the-mill or cute performances, Jacobs' version is likely to re-kindle a passion for its many delights. In the program notes he writes that it is "an exciting challenge to make the dialogue so lively and varied that listeners are not tempted to skip from one musical number to the next," and his success easily outstrips expectations. He simply offers so many surprises (some that might be considered daring or insufficiently respectful of the score) that even listeners who know the opera forward and backward will be kept on their toes. In his notes, however, Jacobs makes a scrupulous and systematic account for each of the apparent eccentricities of his interpretation, citing the libretto itself or the performing practices of Mozart's day. An example of his non-traditional approach is his treatment of the very long spoken interaction with Tamino, Papageno, and the Three Ladies that follows "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja," in which he interjects sound effects and musical snippets and underscores some dialogue with improvisations on the fortepiano, in the manner of a melodram. The Three Ladies are so giddy that they sometimes can't help bursting into song, using music Mozart wrote but discarded before the premiere. Jacobs has a cast with the dramatic chops to pull off these hijinks with panache and naturalness so that they are genuinely funny without seeming silly. And they can sing! Few are international superstars; most are early in their careers, but they are attuned to the subtleties of singing Mozart and for the most part deliver outstanding performances. Daniel Behle's Tamino is pure and robustly heroic, and as Pamina, Marlis Petersen has a lovely lyrical innocence and plenty of strength. Daniel Schmutzhard and Sunhae Im as the secondary couple are absolutely secure vocally, and they bring a gleeful whimsicality to their roles. Anna-Kristiina Kaappola doesn't have as large a voice as is usually associated with the Queen of the Night, but it is consistent from its bottom to its stratospheric top, and her coloratura has a shimmering majesty. One gets the impression that her Queen is a physically small woman with a huge personality, a terrifying virago who sounds like she is spitting nails when she is angry. The smaller roles -- with Inga Kalna, Anna Grevelius, and Isabelle Druet as the Three Ladies, Kurt Azesberger as Monastatos, and Konstantin Wolff as the Speaker -- are all sung and acted beautifully. Marcos Fink doesn't quite have adequate vocal heft for the role, but his voice is warmly enveloping, and he makes an exceptionally humane and fatherly Sarastro; it's easy to see why the young lovers come to trust him. Jacobs' ensembles, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and RIAS Kammerchor, are entirely sensitive to the flexibility of his leadership and play and sing with spontaneous exuberance. The sound of Harmonia Mundi's beautifully produced album is wonderfully clean and lifelike, with excellent depth, clarity, and definition. Highly recommended.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Die Zauberflöte
1 6:01
2 6:49
3 2:03
4 6:52
5 3:55
6 2:38
7 4:49
8 5:46
9 2:07
10 1:55
11 5:58
12 2:33
13 1:14
14 7:16
15 2:39
16 1:03
17 2:24
18 3:42
19 3:10

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Die Zauberflöte
1 2:36
2 3:44
3 2:10
4 4:09
5 1:11
6 3:32
7 1:25
8 1:49
9 1:28
10 3:03
11 2:55
12 3:05
13 3:15
14 3:35
15 1:28
16 2:33
17 3:06
18 2:49

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Die Zauberflöte
1 2:13
2 1:11
3 2:39
4 2:56
5 3:50
6 2:38
7 5:22
8 4:16
9 4:32
10 3:27
11 3:46
12 1:30
13 2:57
14 2:06
15 2:39
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