Tracking down the recordings of Mozart's great 'Magic Flute'

November 15, 1992|By Stephen Wigler

There are more than 20 available recordings of Mozart's "The Magic Flute."

If you want nearly all the spoken dialogue, you won't go wrong with the James Levine-conducted recording on an RCA mid-priced set. Levine's pacing is intelligent and detailed, and the principals are all more than adequate with a particularly fine Sarastro by Martti Talvela.

The budget-priced Karl Boehm set on DG is well-cast -- with Fritz Wunderlich's heartbreakingly lyrical Tamino and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's witty Papageno -- and conducted with affectionate, if leisurely tempos. The only drawback is Roberta Peters' Queen of the Night, which is not suitably ferocious.

Avoid both Georg Solti sets on London -- the first because of the over-insistent conducting (though Hermann Prey's Papageno is sensational) and the second because of Sumi Jo's hard-edged Queen. Neville Marriner's fine Philips set has a strong cast marred only by the characterless Pamina of Kiri Te Kanawa.

Everyone should own a recording that features Edita Gruberova's fiery Queen -- choose the Philips set because Bernard Haitink is a better conductor than Nicholas Harnoncourt on Teldec.

One of the greatest casts ever assembled (the great Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sings the relatively minor part of the first lady!) was Otto Klemperer's 1964 EMI with conducting of chilling power that makes you understand why this was Beethoven's favorite opera.

Recent sets featuring a brisk approach to tempos that approximates the way Mozart himself may have conducted the piece include Roger Norrington (EMI) and Charles Mackerras (Telarc). The latter is better conducted, but unfortunately features June Anderson's weightless Queen.

Great older sets include the pioneering 1937 version by Thomas Beecham with an all-star cast (choose the better-sounding Pearl dubbing over the EMI) and the 1950 Herbert von Karajan EMI set with a dazzling cast.

And here's a plea for the reissue of Ferenc Fricsay's 1955 DG set with Josef Greindl's great Sarastro, Rita Streich's dazzling Queen and Maria Stader's tender Pamina.

Video fanciers should investigate Ingmar Bergman's 1974 Swedish-language film, which may re-arrange a few sequences but is a great homage by one genius to another.

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