The Gramophone Guide describes the 1992 Ludwigsburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte as a “life-enhancing experience” so I thought I’d take a look. I think the folks at The Gramphone Guide are rather over-egging it but it is a pretty decent production. It’s very much geared to Ludwigsburg’s small stage and limited scenery handling capacity but it makes good use of the space and clever lighting, including a willingness to black out the stage, and some deft stage craft make up for the limitations.
Director Axel Manthey sticks to the libretto and there’s nothing at all Regie about the production. The designs (set and costumes) are bold and could come straight out of a child’s picture book version of the story. The Personenregie is careful and effective and there are some very good moments like the animals in Act 2 and Papageno disappearing into the stage. Some other choices seem to me less sound. Monostatos, in black face, is dressed in leopard skin and gold jewellery and looks disconcertingly like a racist cartoon from the 1930s missing only the bone through the nose. The Queen of the Night isn’t done any favours either by a hoop skirt of truly epic size. But, all in all it’s an effective, if conventional approach.
The performances are a bit mixed. Deon de Walt is a stylish Tamino and manages not to be a pompous dick. Ulrike Sonntag looks the part as Pamina and sings with a clear bright tone that I find much preferable to some of the darker voices I’ve heard sing the role. She can act too. Thomas Mohr is a lyrical and unfussy Papageno though not especially strongly characterised. From a chemistry point of view; dramatic and musical, the scenes between Pamina and Papageno are probably the highlights.
Unfortunately it goes down hill a bit from there. Cornelius Hauptmann’s Sarastro is dull and underpowered and totally uncharismatic. Andrea Frei’s Queen of the Night is rather painful. Her vibrato opens out in her upper register and her pitch seems quite uncertain. Tamino appears to be beaten down by her coloratura in Act 1 and well he might be! She’s a bit better, but not much, in Act 2. The Papagena, Patricia Rozario, acts well and looks good but when she actually has to sing comes off rather shrill. The minor parts are fine and the orchestra and chorus are quite acceptable. Wolfgang Gönnenwein conducts efficiently but doesn’t seem to have anything very original to say. If the singing consistently equalled the staging this would be pretty good but it doesn’t.
The production for DVD is just about acceptable. Ruth Kärch’s video direction is well judged for the most part and seems to give a faithful view of the stage production. The 4:3 picture is pretty soft focus and has some motion effects but I found I got used to it. The LPCM stereo sound is pretty average. There are English, French and Spanish subtitles. There are no extras. Bottom line, there is no shortage of better video recordings of Die Zauberflöte.