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But was there possibly more? In one sense, yes. Others, however, narrowly pipped Ingrams to the post: Garsington was both the second festival and the second English opera company to demonstrate, with this heart-warming and in many respects stylish production of The Philosophers' Stone (Der Stein der Weisen, oder Der Zauberinsel, 1790), that The Magic Flute is only the tip -- although it's the peak -- of a very large iceberg indeed. The Flute didn't stand on its own. It was an important milestone within an extensive and fast-accruing popular genre.

Several seasons ago, In May 2000, Barry Millington, then music critic of The Times (and later of The Evening Standard), and Artistic Director of the thriving Hampstead and Highgate Festival, secured a highly enjoyable concert performance (in fact the UK première) of this entertaining opera -- long recognised as a 'collective' undertaking, being composed by more than one hand (though one of them was indeed Mozart's).

Telarc disc of 'The Philosophers' Stone', CD-80508

This followed the appearance of a vital and highly desirable world première CD recording, on Telarc (double disc CD-80508); from the same crucial period there was also one of The Magnificent Dervish, on Telarc CD-80573, also recommended for all those interested in the genre.

Soon afterwards The Philosophers' Stone was staged on the continent by the enterprising Opera Augsberg, and also received its significant UK stage première, in a highly memorable outdoor production, making much of the 'magic island' element yet amusingly coinciding it with something of a 'space age' interpretation, by Jeremy Gray, co-Artistic Director of Bampton Classical Opera, with translation by Gray and Gilly French and a cast that included such splendid young rising talents as Mark Wilde, Amanda Pitt, Mark Saberton (last year's Antonio in Garsington's The Marriage of Figaro) and Thomas Guthrie (currently directing and starring in his unforgettable and zany staging of Purcell's The Fairy Queen).

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Copyright © 9 July 2006 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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