Saturday, May 25, 2002

[5/25/2012] Preview: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012) (continued)


"Is this the most beautiful music ever written?" I asked when we first heard this astounding trio from Act I of Mozart's Così fan tutte, in a March remembrance of soprano Margaret Price. I'm still not prepared to say no.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Act I,
Trio, Fiordiligi, Dorabella, and Don Alfonso, "Soave sia il vento"

Gentle be the breeze,
Calm be the waves,
And every element
Smile in favour
On their wish.

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962


. . . than the Così trio we just heard and the Magic Flute quintet we're about to hear. Of course these farewells both contain at least the hope if not the expectation of seeing one another again. After all, the sisters in Così think their sweethearts are going off to war (Don Alfonso knows better, having set this whole charade in motion), while the gentlemen in The Magic Flute, being sent off to rescue the beautiful daughter of the Star-Flaming Queen of the Night from -- as they believe -- the evil Sarastro, don't know where the damn hell they're going.

Neither of the roles represented here figured much in Fischer-Dieskau's repertory. He did sing Don Alfonso in Così, but not much, and Papageno in The Magic Flute he never sang onstage, only for two complete recordings. (He explained once that he thought that at his over-six-foot height he would look ridiculous as the feathered bird-catcher Papageno.) However, in this later Magic Flute, with Karl Böhm conducting (not to mention Fritz Wunderlich singing Tamino), he sings (and in the spoken dialogue speaks) the best Papageno I've ever heard. It seems to me one of his finest recorded performances.

Turning to The Magic Flute, as a matter of fact when we first heard this quintet, which ends the opening scene of Act I, we didn't hear the whole thing. I owned up to having "edited the quintet brutally." At that time we picked up with the "farewell" sequence (about 4:15 of the clip below).

MOZART: The Magic Flute, K. 620: Act I, Scene 1,
Quintet, Tamino, Papageno, and the Three Ladies, "Hm-hm-hm-hm!"

The mysterious Three Ladies, emissaries of the Star-Flaming Queen of the Night, have padlocked the bird-catcher Papageno's mouth for claiming to have slain the serpent lying dead before him. In fact, it was the Three Ladies who slew the serpent, just as it was about to smite the handsome Prince Tamino.

PAPAGENO [points sadly at the lock on his mouth]:
Hm-hm-hm-hm, hm-hm-hm-hm,
hm-hm-hm-hm, hm-hm-hm-hm.
TAMINO: The poor fellow can talk about his punishment
because his speech is gone.
PAPAGENO: Hm-hm-hm-hm, hm-hm-hm-hm,
hm-hm-hm-hm, hm-hm-hm-hm.
TAMINO: I can't do anything but pity you
because I'm too weak to help.
1st LADY: The Queen pardons you,
[takes the lock away from his mouth]
remits your punishment through me.
PAPAGENO: Now Papageno can chatter again?
2nd LADY: Yes, chatter! Just don't lie again!
PAPAGENO: I'll never lie again! No! No!
THE THREE LADIES: This lock will be your warning.
PAPAGENO: This lock will be my warning.
ALL: If all liars were given
such a lock on their mouths,
instead of hate, defamation, and black bile
love and brotherhood would endure.
1st LADY: O Prince, take this gift from me!
This is sent to you by our ruler.
[Gives him a golden flute.]
The magic flute will protect you,
in the greatest misfortune sustain you.
THE THREE LADIES: With it you can act all-powerfully,
transform the passions of your fellow men.
The sad one will become happy,
The bachelor will take on love.
ALL: Oh, such a flute is worth more than gold and crowns,
because through it human happiness and
contentment will grow.
PAPAGENO: Now, you beautiful ladies,
may I so take my leave?
THE THREE LADIES: You can always take your leave.
However, the ruler intends for you --
with the Prince, without dallying --
to hurry to Sarastro's castle.
PAPAGENO: No, I thank you for that!
From you yourselves I've heard
that he's like a tiger.
Surely Sarastro without mercy
would have me plucked and roasted;
he would set me out for the dogs.
THE THREE LADIES: The Prince will protect you -- trust him alone!
That's why you are to be his servant.
PAPAGENO [to himself]: Let the Prince go to the devil!
My life is dear to me;
in the end, by my honor, he will creep
away from me like a thief!
1st LADY [gives him a wooden box with bells inside]:
Here, take this treasure, it's yours.
PAPAGENO: Hey, hey, what might be inside there?
THE THREE LADIES: In there you'll hear little bells sound.
PAPAGENO: Will I even be able to play them?
THE THREE LADIES: Oh, absolutely! Yes, yes, indeed!
Little silver bells, magic flute
are needed for your protection.
Farewell, we are going.
Farewell, until we see you again!
TAMINO and PAPAGENO: Little silver bells, magic flute
are needed for our protection.
Farewell, we are going.
Farewell, until we see you again!
[All are about to go.]
TAMINO: Yet, fair ladies, tell us . . .
PAPAGENO: How the castle may be found.
TAMINO and PAPAGENO: How the castle may be found.

We should take some note of the tune that Mozart introduces here, at 4:46 of the clip, which for all its simplicity is of such sublimity, especially with its otherworldly harmonization and insistent rhythmic underpinning, as to make clear that this isn't some ordinary fairy tale we're dealing with here.

THE THREE LADIES: Three little boys, young, beautiful, gracious, and wise,
will accompany you on your journey.
They will be your guides,
follow nothing but their advice.
TAMINO and PAPAGENO: Three little boys, young, beautiful, gracious, and wise,
will accompany us on our journey.
THE THREE LADIES: They will be your guides,
follow nothing but their advice.
ALL: So farewell, we are going;
farewell, farewell, until we see you again!

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Papageno; Frtiz Wunderlich (t), Tamino; Hildegard Hillebrecht (s), Cvetka Ahlin (ms), and Sieglinde Wagner (ms), the Three Ladies; Berlin Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded 1964


As noted, we'll he hearing Fischer-Dieskau singing farewells of his own, through the medium of the composer we've heard him singing most often here in Sunday Classics.


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