Mozart: Die Zauberflöte: Der Hölle Rache (The Wrath of Hell)

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is probably the most magnificent performance ever of The Queen of the Night's most famous aria I've ever heard.  The German soprano, Diana Damrau sings with conviction, expression, and confidence.  A most chilling and terrifying experience!


Jasper October 19, 2009 at 2:24 AM  

Thank you for this posting. I first discovered your blog while searching the web for Poulence songs and stumbled upon your "Songs of Love" posted in March. I really enjoy your repertoire choices and introductory notes.

That said, I have to disagree here. This interpretation is interesting, and Damrau's singing refreshingly enunciated. (Of course, it helps that she's German.) She has a wonderful voice with a commanding presence. The performance lacks, unfortunately, good stage direction. When actors are allowed to overindulge themselves in every physical gesture like this, the audience' attention is unable to focus properly to receive the effect of the gesture before the next one interrupts, the result being a kind of hammish series of overpronounced movements that robs the performance of much of its drama; in other words, it comes off overacted, even though the acting itself is essentially fine. Had she moved altogether less, and less suddenly, and made her physical presence less broadcasted, less telegraphing, it would play much more powerfully. It's the age-old aesthetic rule that even just a little less is so often so much more.

So this performance, while having many nicely chosen elements, as a whole falls far short of the powerful recent performances by Erika Miklosa & June Anderson, for example, or the less recent of Cheryl Studer.

Lynette October 20, 2009 at 8:22 AM  

Jasper, thanks for leaving your well-informed and well-stated comment.

While I completely appreciate and respect your point of view regarding this particular performance, I must state that I disagree. One must remember that this particular performance was staged not specifically for a live audience, but for the camera as well. This performance was staged with the understanding that it would be recorded for a wider media audience, and therefore the staging and gestures were created with that in mind. In fact, I own this particular dvd myself, and it is one of my favorites in my collection. To be quite honest with you, even though I am a tremendous Mozart lover, "The Magic Flute" was never one of my favorites until I saw this performance. This one changed my mind.

So I suppose that all of this illustrates perfectly why opinions on such matters are entirely subjective, and that what may be sauce for the goose, may not necessarily be sauce for the gander.

While I do appreciate and enjoy the subtler performances of Erika Miklosa & June Anderson, I am always drawn back to this strong and powerful performance by Damrau.

Jasper October 29, 2009 at 8:34 PM  


You'll likely think it strange for me to respond now after about 2 weeks or so, but I've been inundated with personal matters recently and blog-following--a favorite hobby--got sidelined. :^( Needless to say, I've been giving the F-Major Shaded Life some very enjoyable catch-up listening (!). Loved the Liszt Trauerspiel...; thanks a bunch for introducing it, and please keep the posts coming!

In any case, I'll pipe up once again, in the spirit of music-loving comradeship, regarding this lovely Zauberflote aria and confess to being a bit baffled by your expressed supposition that the camera more than the live stage somehow abhors nuance. I can only offer, by way of complete contrast, this recital performance of the aria by Erika Miklosa to evidence that a rendition even completely out of costume--without the help of staging, movement, or fellow actors, and aided only by sincere facial expression--can yet move us, and even haunt us, tremendously. What's more, in this adorable Strauss performance, Barbara Bonney moves almost not at all, and yet how powerful her acting is--and how transporting the singing!! (Could say the same for Anne Howell in that clip, actually.)

As for your take on sauced fowl, it may come as something of a surprise to you that I actually don't consider a question like overacting to be subjective. Rather, it's there for all to see once pointed out, and if the performance is effective regardless, well that's just a testament to the other artistic elements therein. But that's a larger philosophical point, and I'd have to be in a world all my own not to realize that there I go very much against the prevailing, more popular, current, so I'll just leave it there.... In any case, your testimony regarding Damrau's effect on your enthusiasm for this opera is not at all to be taken lightly. It does her much honor, and, yes, gives me pause. (And your Comment gave me a certain syntactic deja-vu!) Thank you for sharing.

In case you enjoy Mendelssohn (and I do hope I'm being rhetorical!), thought I'd pass on my favorite performance of the violin concerto. A little random perhaps, but keeping with the eclectic character of your charming blog, no?

eRegards (“bloggards”?),

Lynette October 30, 2009 at 8:09 AM  

Jasper, so glad that you returned!

I must confess to you that it wasn't specifically Damrau's performance that drew me to this production so much as the overall production itself. Too often Die Zauberflöte is played as a children's opera, the deeper meanings either glossed over or missed entirely. I was yet to see a production that brought out the Masonic elements and philosophies as did this one - The Queen of the Night representing the Empress Maria Theresa and the Roman Catholic Church simultaneously, Papageno representing the natural man (and in this production beautifully and effectively played by Simon Keenlyside as an "Everyman"), and of course Prince Tamino as the soul in search of enlightenment. Despite the claims of misogyny in the libretto (which actually Zauberflöte was quite progressive in it's views toward women for its time. Take for instance the fact that it is Pamina who leads Tamino through the trials!) the women in this particular production are strong and hold their own against the dominating and sometimes overpowering presence of Sarastro. This is not a subtle production and therefore it calls for strong and powerful stage presence as well as acting. Perhaps within the context of the entire production you might be swayed a bit more towards understanding my position.

Interestingly enough, I'm not a great fan of Damrau, finding her too harsh in most of the other roles in which I've seen her. I especially dislike her in the role of Susanna in Figaro, a role which I admit to being especially picky, as I am quite well-versed in the life and career of Mozart's original Susanna, Nancy Storace. Damrau is entirely too German for Susanna, which takes away from Susanna's subtle charm.

Again, I appreciate your comments and I have enjoyed reading your other takes elsewhere on my blog. Please return!


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