Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (Tamino), Gottlob Frick, bass (Sarastro), Lieselotte Fölser, soprano (Pamina), Erika Köth, soprano (Queen of the Night), Walter Berry, baritone (Papageno), Kurt Marschner, tenor (Monostatos). Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, Vienna Philharmonic, Joseph Keilberth, cond.
Golden Melodram GM 5.0044 (3 CDs). (F) (ADD) TT: 2:43:39

This recording of The Magic Flute, taken from a 12 August 1960 performance at the Salzburg Festival, has much to recommend it. First and foremost is the extraordinary Tamino of the great German lyric tenor, Fritz Wunderlich. Wunderlich made a superb studio recording of this opera for DGG in 1964. This 1960 Salzburg performance finds him in equally magnificent voice (aside from an occasional tendency to sing just a hair sharp), but also far more passionate and dramatically involved. Wunderlich, more than any other tenor I’ve heard, turns this fairy-tale prince into a very human, sympathetic character.

The other principals are mostly quite fine as well. Walter Berry, one of the leading exponents of Papageno in his day, sings beautifully and with considerable charm. His duet with Pamina is absolutely ravishing, and Berry manages to bring touching pathos to Papageno’s contemplation of suicide, toward the close of the second act. The Sarastro, Gottlob Frick, is in better voice than when he participated in the 1964 studio EMI recording, conducted by Otto Klemperer. Still, Frick has some difficulty with the role’s lowest notes, and is unable to maintain a true legato in “In diesen heil’gen Hallen.” Erika Köth, a frequent and valuable interpreter of the Queen of the Night, is the most disappointing of the principals. It appears Köth was somewhat indisposed for this 1960 performance—she has to drop out briefly immediately before the conclusion of her first aria, and is below pitch in the top notes of “Der Hölle Rach.” Köth is far from a disaster in this brief but demanding role. Still, she may be heard to far better advantage on other recordings of this opera (more on that in a bit).

This recording also served as my introduction to Austrian soprano, Lieselotte Fölser. She offers a worthy performance as Pamina, singing with a straightforward, unaffected approach and lovely tone, albeit with some insecurity in the lower register. She also delivers her spoken dialogue with dramatic conviction.
Joseph Keilberth leads a performance with plenty of energy and drive, while also allowing the singers the flexibility to make their musical and dramatic points. Of course, it is always a pleasure to hear the Vienna Philharmonic play this score, and the orchestra is in fine form. The sound is for the most part clear and full-bodied, with ample definition, and just a touch of distortion in the loudest passages.

If I were reviewing this recording in isolation, I would be inclined to give it a strong recommendation. But Golden Melodram has issued another Magic Flute, taped in performance in Munich 16 July 1964, that I previously reviewed on this site. Two of the Salzburg principals—Fritz Wunderlich and Erika Köth—also appear in the Munich Magic Flute. Both (especially Köth) improve upon their contributions to the Salzburg performance. The Munich performance also includes the Papageno of Hermann Prey and Anneliese Rothenberger as Pamina, both in glorious form. The only shortcoming is the rather pedestrian Sarastro of Karl Christian Kohn. Fritz Rieger and the Munich Philharmonic, while not as propulsive as Keilberth and the Vienna Philharmonic, offer warm and sympathetic accompaniment. And the recorded sound of the Munich performance is far superior to the Salzburg Flute. In fact, it is virtually of studio quality, albeit in monophonic sound.

Given that Walter Berry’s excellent Papageno may also be enjoyed on three studio recordings, as well as a 1959 Salzburg performance conducted by George Szell, I see no compelling reason to purchase the new Golden Melodram set. Instead I would opt for the label's issue of the glorious 1964 Munich Zauberflöte, which will continue to hold a treasured place in my collection.

K.M. (October 2003)