MOZART AT GLYNDEBOURNE
By ERNEST MOSS
I went down to Glyndebourne last Sunday to hear the Magic Flute. Mr. Christie's company, which plays in the chamber opera house in his garden, has the reputation of giving Mozart performances which are unequalled certainly in this country and perhaps on the continent. And they are played in a setting beneath the South Downs which, apart from the disturbing concourse of motor-cars, would be exceedingly peaceful.
The principal cause of the success of the Glyndebourne performances, apart from sound musicianship, is probably the smallness of the opera-house, which is not much
bigger than a large room. The " intimacy " which results from playing Mozart in such a confined space is not hypothetical bilge. There are immediate practical effects. Piano passages can be much quieter, the slightest, most subtle nuance, in the orchestra, in the singing, in gesture is not lost on the audience. Some of the wind-playing, some of the singing of the Oueen of the Night's three Ladies, and Aulikki Rautawaara's extremely delicate piano singing in Pamina's great tragic aria in Act II would have become unintelligible mumblings at Covent Garden.
The small Glyndebourne orchestra, I believe largely recruited from the Philharmonic, has reached a very high standard under the taut conducting of Fritz Busch. but not the highest human standard possible as one might think from some of the extravagant praise lavished on it. The turns, for instance. in the fugue subject of the Magic Flute overture, were blurred, not clean enough. But the precision of the playing, and the smoothness and unanimity of the crescendos and diminuendos of Mozart's string decoration, were a subtle delight that one doesn't often hear. The wind section, also, was extremely good, and I had not realised before, until I heard such good playing at such close quarters, how deliciously cool Mozart keeps the music of this opera by frequently overlaying the melodic line with the dispassionate tone of the flute.
The singing in the opera was unequal, though one never noticed it in the ensembles. Roy Henderson, who played Papageno, acts better than he sings, though his singing is good. Sinaida Lissitschkina vanquished the difficulties of the Queen of the Night's arias in an uncomfortable way, and there was no real clarity. Thorkild Naval, as Tamino, sang beautifully. but with a trace of throatiness. The two lots of three genii, or whatever they are, for whom Mozart wrote some of the most enchanting trios ever conceived sang with unfailing balance and delivery.
But what compensates for the small deficiencies in the singing (and the singers are the best to be got) is the (for opera) surprising excellence with which they fit their parts. Both Aulikki Rautawaara as the Princess, and Thorkild Noval as the Prince were probably more than ordinarily attractive to the opposite sex, at least with the seductive appurtenances of lights and make-up. And not only did the singers look their parts, but acted them too. Roy Henderson was in the front rank in this respect.
More about Glyndebourne next week.