Mozart's last opera, the simultaneously comic and serious fairy tale The Magic Flute
), is as problematic as anything in the medium. Some deplore it for its perceived sexism and racism; some deplore it for its arguably goofy plot. "Depending on your perspective," writes David Foil in his essay in this book, it "is either the silliest opera ever written or a work of profound insight that happens to be dressed in the trappings of a cartoon." That it is Mozart's sublime music that ennobles something meant to be merely a short-lived popular entertainment is not in question.
This volume, issued by Black Dog Opera Library, puts together Foil's essay, lots of pictures, a complete libretto (with running commentary) in English and German, and a classic recording on two compact discs in one comfortably priced hardcover package. It is a fine introduction to what remains a great opera, goofy plot or no. (And Bellini's plots aren't even goofier?) It is worth buying just for the now out-of-print EMI/Angel 1972 (remastered in 1987) recording, contained on two very long-playing CDs, found inside the front and back covers of the book. The dialogue portions work better in this version than in most recordings. Anneliese Rothenberger is an appealing Pamina, and Walter Berry is a delightful Papageno. Edda Moser nails the difficult music of the Queen of Night, while Kurt Moll is our day's definitive Sarastro. Wolfgang Sawallisch, brisk and never lugubrious, conducts his soloists and the Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra with total certainty.
From Publishers Weekly
Adapting any work to sequential art is intimidating, but adapting opera takes a special kind of confidence. Adapting comic opera-particularly one by Mozart-takes a confidence that borders on hubris. Fortunately, Russell, who's adapted everything from Neil Gaiman's short stories to The Ring of the Niebelung, has the talent to back up his ambition. Sure and confident, Russell's art switches from tense action sequences to slapstick without missing a beat. His sense of physical characterization is also impressive, helping readers keep track of Mozart's often confusing cast of characters. Even traditionally less-recognized aspects of comics presentation, like color and lettering, here serve the story brilliantly. And as impressive as Russell's art is, his writing is possibly even more noteworthy. Much of this graphic novel is told without narration or dialogue (presumably to simulate the longer musical passages Mozart included in the opera), and Russell's selection of sequential images keeps the story moving along without ever losing readers. When he does use dialogue, often the hardest part of a graphic novel to pull off properly, he hits just the right tones: brash and aspiring for young Prince Tamino, earthy and hearty for cynical bird-catcher Papageno, haughty and cryptic for the mysterious Queen of Night. NBM's reprint of Russell's classic adaptation superbly displays the artist's skill at both writing and illustrating.
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