MAESTRO June, 1973, Volumes 4 & 5

by John W. Freeman
Maestro Toscanini's ideas about this opera were unorthodox. Whereas his interpretation of Die Meistersinger is surprisingly German in feeling, he recognized that Mozart had not written a German opera in The Magic Flute, but had brought together a conglomeration of elements - Gluck and opera seria for Sarastro and the priests, Italian opera buffa for Papageno (though also based on Austrian folk song), "Turkish" music for the Moor Monostatos, baroque bravura for the Queen of the Night. The conductor's task is not one of stylistic authenticity (authentic to which style?) but the much broader one of fitting it all harmoniously together. The miracle of Mozart's genius was such that everything does in fact work together in this score, provided its primal sources are topped.
A few things that Toscanini did were guaranteed, though not intended, to shake up the traditionalists. He allowed Kipnis to take a low E at the end of his second aria - a liberty tolerated in "frivolous" Italian opera but anathema to such latter-day Mozart purists Gustav Mahler or Fritz Busch. In the same singer's first aria, he took the term "Adagio" to mean a very slow tempo indeed, closer to a "Largo." Likewise in Pamina's aria he cast aside the traditional tempo, feeling it too slow for her agitated emotions as expressed in the text. He decided that the Queen of the Night should be a real dramatic soprano, not a twittering coloratura, and even transporsed some of her music down a whole-tone for her: as it happens, she ran into vocal difficulty during the performance here recorded, but the rightness of her timbre is apparent in the more straightforward passages.
Whatever else one may call Toscanini's Magic Flute, it is superlative in the Papageno scenes, where the grand line leading to Rossini's comedies is apparent, and in the majestic accents of the Overture, superbly executed and shaped so as to bring out both the seriousness and the joyful energy of Mozart's inspiration. The rest is never less than interesting. The trio of Genii, for example, customarily cast for three women, was restored by Toscanini to its original form, a trio for three chiorboys. And of course the emsembles a breathtaking, Even the spoken dialogue is imbued with life, excitement and musical pacing.
Toscanini & Vienna Phiharmonic
"The Magic Flute" Photography