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Vivid and sparkling music theatre


A modern revival of a rediscovered opera
with music by Mozart after 176 Years!

MALCOLM MILLER attended the
UK Première and World Première of the English Translation of
The Philosopher's Stone or The Enchanted isle
(Der Stein Der Weisen oder die Zauberinsel)


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More than just of historical interest as a precursor to a masterpiece, The Philosopher's Stone can stand independently as a vivid and sparkling piece of music-theatre. The musical style is full of charming melodies and a lightness of touch, a predilection for woodwind, simple diatonic writing contrasted by more chromatic and coloratura writing for the heroic and virtuous characters. As David J.Buch has observed, the whole opera, not just Mozart's contributions, is of very high quality, and certainly there are moments where one could be forgiven for attributing arias by Henneberg, Gerl, Schack or Schikaneder to Mozart himself.

In this première, the excellent cast made the most of every opportunity for characterisation and drama. The bass Graeme Danby brought power and drama to the role of Eutifronte, evil god of the underworld, with a slow, evocative aria in Act I 'In deepest cleft of hell abiding…' matched by his demonic partnership with the Spirits in Act II where he urges Lubano to murder his brother, the beneficient god Astromonte. Astromonte's strident characterisation by the Agustin Prunell-Friend in the Act I aria 'Good people raise your heads ' was notable for its fine coloratura that presages that of the Queen of the Night. The more expressive arias are assigned to the lovers Nadir and Nadine. Huw Rhys-Evans gave feeling to his portrayal of Nadir, in the tender Act I aria 'Can I be dreaming', with its warmly sustained horn part, matched by Nadine's love aria 'A woman who has felt love's dart' richly projected by Carolyn Sampson. With its poignant orchestral phrases, smooth melodic line, appoggiaturas and 'feminine cadences' the style approaches Mozart at his most expressive. The two lovers are also assigned beautiful arias in Act II, Nadir's 'Ye Gods show mercy and hear my plea' and Nadine's 'My darling, my dearest Nadir!' again with woodwind obligatos to add to the rich instrumental palette.

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Copyright © 8 June 2000 Malcolm Miller, London, UK


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