Otto Klemperer brings his customary nobility of conception to Die Zauberflöte, with its symbolic drama, and is joined by an exceptional cast. Gundula Janowitz sings Pamina with sublime beauty and the young Lucia Popp is brilliant as the Queen of the Night, the role that first made her reputation.
It was one of the bonuses of Klemperer’s indian Summer in the recording studio that he was able to record all three Mozart/Da Ponte operas, as well as Die Zauberflöte, a work for which he had a particularly deep affection. Die Zauberflöte was, he believed, a ‘perfect’ composition, albeit an inexhaustible one which no single production could ever hope to encompass. Sadly productions which he conducted in Berlin in 1929, Milan in 1950 and London in 1962 were all unsatisfactory in one way or another. Perhaps, in the end, it required what André Malraux called the ‘musée imaginaire’ of the gramophone to realise Klemperer’s dream of this ‘perfect’ work.
This 1964 recording of Die Zauberflöte came close to an ideal, despite the abridgements he imposed. Away from the theatre, Klemperer argued, no one wants to sit through the work’s lengthy spoken dialogue. Producer Walter Legge tried to persuade him otherwise but having made two previous dialogue-free recordings of the opera – with Beecham in Berlin in 1938 and Karajan in Vienna in 1950 – he was on shaky ground. The fact that the earlier recordings were made in the era of 78 rpm recording when time and space were at a premium cut no ice with Klemperer.
For the recording, Klemperer was working with a hand-picked cast which Legge confidently declared to be ‘as perfect as the world’s resource could yield’. A producer who casts the principal roles from strength and then has Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, and Marga Höffgen in reserve for the Three Ladies is entitled to make such a claim. The set was, and remains, a glorious achievement.
Recorded 1964, Kingsway Hall, London | Newly remastered from the original tapes
Full libretto in German, with translations in English and French
Nicolai Gedda (Tamino), Gundula Janowitz (Pamina), Walter Berry (Papageno), Lucia Popp (Königin der Nacht), Gottlob Frick (Sarastro), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Marga Höffgen (Drei Damen), Ruth-Margret Pütz (Papagena), Gerhard Unger (Monostatos), Karl Liebl, Franz Crass (Zwei Geharnischten), Agnes Giebel, Anna Reynolds & Josephine Veasey (Drei Knaben)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Philharmonia Chorus, Otto Klemperer
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“The cast of Otto Klemperer's 1964 recording reads almost like a who's who of the opera world at the time...a Flute full of joy and wisdom, with characters who are both unearthly yet recognisably human.”