Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats."
Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

CD Review: The Italian Wizard

The wizard waves his wand: Claudio Abbado
Mozart's final opera, Die Zauberflöte is both philosophical parable and music-hall comedy. Veteran conductor Claudio Abbado balances those two aspects on this live recording, made in 2005 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and a cast of (mostly) unknown European singers. Abbado brings out the robust energy in this fiery music and drawing an inspired performance from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Christoph Stehl is the best Tamino on record since the untimely death of Fritz Wunderlich. He is a strong, fully realized hero who makes the journey from jüngling to mensch believable over the course of two discs. Stehl has the right voice for this part, and a feel for Mozart's tricky lyric lines.

His counterpart is Hanno Müller-Brachmann, a Papageno who knows the importance of comic timing and connection with the audience. He sings well, draws laughs, and never sounds like a buffoon. And he does the "Mmm mmm mmm" bit with great comic flair. Bass Rene Pape (the one "star" in the cast) is a resonant Sarastro, paternal without sounding ancient.

Dorothea Röschmann has a great voice, but it is an ill fit for Pamina. Her singing is full, rich and loud, an over-sized performance that sounds too big next to the other voices in the cast. Soprano Erika Mikósa is much better as the Queen of the Night, fearless in the two death-defying coloratura arias. She makes this difficult character a real, human woman as well as a bloodthirsty night goddess--not an easy combination when you have to hit all those high Fs.

This was made in front of an audience in Modena Italy. (Stage noises and audience laughter are audible.) The sound is excellent, pulling the listener in with a warm, immediate acoustic that favors the singers. The Arnold Schoenberg Chor sounds distant at their first entry, but rallies with a mighy hymn to Sarastro and a strong conclusion to the opera. The only real flaw in this recording is the spoken dialogue, which is trimmed down and sounds like it was added later in an echo chamber.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.