[Met Performance] CID:209500
New production
Die Zauberflöte {146} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/19/1967.

(Debuts: Lucia Popp, Kevin Leftwich, Peter Herzberg, John Bogard, Josef Krips, Marc Chagall

Metropolitan Opera House
February 19, 1967
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds

New production


Pamina..................Pilar Lorengar
Tamino..................Nicolai Gedda
Queen of the Night......Lucia Popp [Debut]
Sarastro................Jerome Hines
Papageno................Hermann Prey
Papagena................Patricia Welting
Monostatos..............Andrea Velis
Speaker.................Morley Meredith
First Lady..............Jean Fenn
Second Lady.............Rosalind Elias
Third Lady..............Ruza Baldani
Genie...................Kevin Leftwich [Debut]
Genie...................Peter Herzberg [Debut]
Genie...................John Bogart [Debut]
Priest..................Gabor Carelli
Priest..................Robert Goodloe
Guard...................Robert Schmorr
Guard...................Louis Sgarro

Conductor...............Josef Krips [Debut]

Production..............Günther Rennert
Designer................Marc Chagall [Debut]

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Die Zauberflöte received nineteen performances this season.

Review of Speight Jenkins Jr., Special to the Times Herald


New York - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte" received a triumphantly successful performance as the eighth new production in this inaugural year of the new Metropolitan Opera House. It was not only the first time "The Magic Flute" has been given in German since 1927 but the first time since World War II that New York has seen a really successful production of this extremely ephemeral fantasy opera. All I had heard around the Metropolitan in the weeks preceding the premiere boded ill for the multi-colored, fanciful, way-out sets and costumes designed by the famous artist, Marc Chagall. Every bad rumor was wrong. From beginning to end, the welter of color created the non-realistic landscape which is the domain of "Zauberflöte."

The colors and Chagall's use of them defy description. Basically the action is played on a central disk. The only props are those required by the libretto, such as the tree on which Papageno attempts to hang himself. The color derives from a countless succession of backdrops which, along with side drops, indicate the change of scene. The animals in the "Flute" dance on with Chagall-ian double heads and cavort about the stage in an incredible manner. A reservation on the costumes: they are, except for Papageno's. over-colored.

Dr. Guenther Rennert of the Munich Opera staged the opera. The central character of his staging was Papageno and, because the Papageno, Hermann Prey, is a consummate actor, everything worked perfectly with each character moving smoothly and easily on the stage. The German dialogue was enunciated as though it were the Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. As the greatest tribute to Dr. Rennert, the audience laughed, roared in fact, throughout the performance. Truth to say, the banalities of the "Flute" libretto sound funnier in German than in a translated English.

Josef Krips made his Met debut conducting the opera. His texture was translucent and the chamber quality of the orchestra throughout the evening was lovely to hear. His secret was pacing. The flow of the music never ceased from the [first] chords to the finale. My only criticism lay with his excessive control of the volume. His concern for all the singers' audibility cost us some of the singer-orchestra balance.

Now to the singers. First, foremost and almost unbelievably fine was Hermann Prey's Papageno. Herr Prey...has a heavier baritone than is normally the bird catcher's, yet he sang with such control, such finesse and such extravagant musicianship as to erase comparisons. Prey's acting, whether sitting on the apron with legs dangling into the orchestra pit for his first act "Der Vogelgänger bin ich ja" or his "recognition scene" with Papagena, made you understand why the librettist, Schikaneder, wrote the role for himself.

As the Queen of the Night, Lucia Popp, in her Met debut, sang every note including the F's in alt. Would you believe she never twittered? Here for once was a woman and not a bird! Pilar Lorengar made a beautiful Pamina. The tremolo noted in earlier appearance this year was not present tonight. Her lyrical, Mozartean line was best in the trio with the three youths and whenever she sang with Papageno.

Nicolai Gedda...sang an heroic Tamino; it was rather too heroic for me, but better than any other living singer I can name. His acting, Heaven and Dr. Rennert be praised, came alive. The best moment vocally was his first aria, "Dies Bildnis," which became a glowing, lyrical statement. Jerome Hines, who began singing Sarastro in Mr. Bing's first season in 1950, no longer has the voice for the role. His low notes were not there; more's the pity, as he still looks the role.

The three ladies, Jean Fenn, Rosalind Elias and Ruza Pospinov, sang idyllically, and the three youths were, for the first time at the Met, boy sopranos, a la Vienna. They sang well and handled themselves adroitly. In the huge cast, the other secondary singers all fitted well in the scheme of things.

In all of opera, there is no work so tricky as "Die Zauberflöte." It can be silly, inconsequential and, most often of all, dull. Contrary to Mozart's "Don Giovanni" which almost always has some appeal, a bad "Zauberflöte" is an agony for the audience.
With a performance such as the Metropolitan Opera gave on Sunday night, the genius of Mozart is reaffirmed. It isn't "Zauberflöte" that is faulty; it is the earth-bound people who usually work with it. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Messers Chagall, Rennert, and Krips distilled magic out of the Mozartean air, and all of us were freshly enchanted by the magic in 'The Magic Flute."

Review of Alan Rich in the World Journal-Tribune

By the end of last evening, many members of the Metropolitan Opera House's audience were convinced that Marc Chagall had not only designed the new production of "The Magic Flute," but had also composed the music, written the libretto, sung the major roles and conducted. It was decidedly Chagall's evening, judging from the conversation and from the wild applause that greeted each new stage picture (often to the detriment of the music); seldom has a Met audience come to a performance so visual-minded.

What the painter has provided is certainly worth discussion, to be sure; it may well turn out to be the conversational gambit of the season. He has not so much designed a scenic production of the opera as he has provided a commentary on it. There is no scenery at all, in the usual sense; the action unfolds, rather, against a sumptuous series of Chagall paintings and forms that deal in some general way with mood, and in some even more general way with symbolic significance.

He has not stinted himself. Everything is rich, recognizable, vintage Chagall, the fanciful figures, the slashing, vibrant colors. The animals that come out to dance to Tamino's flute have walked off of every Chagall canvas we have ever seen. The costumes are Chagall paintings wrapped around people, and they, too, are wildly, vividly colorful.

Reservations, however, must be expressed. One is constantly busy with the settings, simply because they do stand so completely for the man's viewpoint on the opera. There is a sense, almost, of redundancy, of two "Magic Flutes" simultaneously presented. And sometimes his viewpoints are so personal as to clash with that of any other viewer (and listener). The brilliant reds of the final temple scene are splendid translations of the triumph, but what about the deep mauves of the previous scene? Is that what you and I feel as the Queen of the Night is banished? Possibly not.

Well, it is on its own a colorful show, and if you admire Chagall's art a trip to the Met's new "Flute" is at least as valid as a trip to the Museum of Modern Art. And, furthermore, you can divert your attention from it all (with a little effort, to be sure) and have Mozart's incredible opera thrown in as a bonus. These bonus values ran rather high last night. Josef Krips, known and admired for his symphonic work here, made his Met debut shaping a tight, beautifully balanced, totally loving reading of Mozart's wondrous score. Krips knows Mozart's glowing way with the orchestra deep in his heart, and he got it into the orchestra beautifully.

On the stage there was a certain variability, but some magnificent work to balance a few disappointments. Hermann Prey's Papageno was a total joy, sung with suavity and wit and the kind of tastefulness one usually can only dream about hearing; acted, after a little strenuousness at the beginning, with a full repertory of genuinely comic and touching inventions. Pilar Lorengar's fresh-voiced, graceful Pamina was of like quality, and so, except for some clumsiness in acting, was Nicolai Gedda's Tamino.

From there, however, we must go down the scale. Lucia Popp's debut as the Queen of the Night displayed an artist with a good sense of phrase, as we know from records, but with a smallish, rather colorless voice. Miss Popp merely poked at the high F's in "Die Holle Rache," although there was a fine fury (when it could be heard) in the final measures of this aria. Jerome Hines' Sarastro was disappointing, far below the standard he has set in the part.

In smaller roles there were nice bits contributed by Andrea Velis, the Monostatos, and by Patricia Welting, a perfectly adorable Papagena. The Genii were sung by boys - Kevin Leftwich, Peter Herzberg and John Bogart - and they were a little more on the pitch and audible than boys usually are. Morley Meredith was an excellent High Priest.

Gunther Rennert's direction was, on the whole, attractive and intelligent. The performance was in German, with the dialogue heavily cut, and the words gotten out with varying success by a cast of varying nationality.

Photograph of Lucia Popp as the Queen of the Night by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

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