For anyone compiling a directory of the ‘greatest recordings’ of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra some nominations are easy to classify. Sir Thomas Beecham’s 1937/8 Berlin recording of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is certainly one of them. Originally re-mastered in 1991 it is pleasing to have this Nimbus set available in the catalogue…
– Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Franz Schubert never achieved the success as a composer for the stage that the aspired to, and even since his genius has been fully recognized, his dramatic works have not found their way into the repertoire. This is due not so much to the quality of the music, which is often very high, but to the fact that Schubert devoted himself to a form, thesingspiel, which wasn't quite an opera, but a play with interpolated musical numbers that fell quickly out of style and has never made a popular comeback. Several Mozart singspiele, particularly Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Die Zauberflöte, have remained in the repertoire due to the large percentage of musical numbers they contain, their dramatic appeal, and their extraordinary music, criteria that Schubert's work doesn't meet.
Performances from Pamela Coburn, Brigitte Fassbaender, Janet Perry, Eberhard Wachter, the Choir und Ballet der Bayerischen Staatsoper, and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Rosalinde, wife of Eisenstein, is having an affair with Alfred. Eisenstein is due to begin a prison sentence the next morning, and the prison governor, Frank, is expected to collect him at any moment. However, Eisenstein allows himself to be talked into attending a fancy dress ball by Dr Falke, and when Frank arrives to find Alfred with Rosalinde, he assumes him to be Eisenstein and carts him off to prison.
The catalog doesn't need a new version of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, but this one is sung and spoken in German (hence the use of Sommernachtstraum on the cover), which is rare. It's reminder that Mendelssohn was setting a German translation of Shakespeare. Harnoncourt's performance is very fine. His speakers and singers are first-rate, and he evokes both the dreamy relaxation of the play and its mercurial swiftness. Tempos are on the fast side, phrasing is crips without being terse, and the execution by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe could be mistaken for the Concertgebouw.
What begins like a fairy-tale turns into a whimsical fantasy halfway between magic farce and Masonic mysticism: The Magic Flute links a love story with the great questions of the Enlightenment, juxtaposes bird-catcher charm with queenly vengeance, and bewitches the listener with music that mixes cheerful melodies, lovers’ arias, show-stopping coloraturas and mysterious chorales.