Sunday 11 December 2022

Deutekom as Queen of the Night - Zittre Nicht: simply the most thrilling aria ever recorded

I have listened often to Cristina Deutekom's recording of the Queen of the Night's first aria from the Magic Flute, conducted by George Solti, across a period of something like 48 years; and I have never heard anything to match it! 

For me; it stands-out the single greatest performance of any operatic aria by anyone.   

This singing is quite simply incredible. Of course, this is a first rate aria from my favourite opera; and the dramatic situation is superb. But, on top of this, Deutekom's vocal performance has an extraordinarily quality that I find literally hair-raising. 

Mostly, this is the sheer quality of the voice: its concentrated tone with its sharp-focused intonation, its almost inhuman fast-shimmering quality. It is both beautiful, and terrifying - as befits the character. 

Then there is the detail of the singing, with value given to even the smallest decorations - for example the up-going semiquavers at 3.16-17 is slurred by every other singer (you can see the little notes on the score, and sort-of sung, at 2:56 here) at - yet with Deutekom this little is so wonderfully dotted-in that it makes me cry!

The great thing about this aria is that there is an unfolding, lyrical, non-repeating section up to 3:42, when the Queen is trying to seduce Tamino to rescue her daughter by pretending to be a grieving and wronged mother. But then, the mask slips, and she launches into a demand for violent vengeance from the young knight; culminating in coloratura fireworks leading to a stratospheric high F quaver, marked staccato!

Another favourite bit is the triplet passage from 4:17, which Deutekom - uniquely among great singers, and for the first, but not last, time in this recording - uses her throat to separate the rapid notes - whereas other singers just don't separate or accentuate them, or do so by aspirates (in effect, each note is sounded like huh). 

Deutekom's distinctive technique enhances the unearthly quality of this performance (after all, the Queen of the Night is not really a human - but a kind of dark fey).  

It is interesting that this performance in Solti's Flute (BTW, for completeness - here is the Queen's other, and more famous, aria ) led to a cult of Deutekom; which is evident on YouTube comments, with extremely polarized opinions. 

It was the same when I was at university. I would often play this recording to friends. For some people it had a stunning, revelatory quality - never forgotten, and with a lifelong impact. 

Among some of my musical friends we would often refer to this performance and its aspects. Yet others - also musical - cordially disliked it... 

Such is the nature of greatness.   

Note added: I am glad that, before the internet, I did not realize that Deutekom was a fair-haired, homely-looking (and, apparently, sweet-natured) Dutch lady. She sounds - in this recording - like a darkly-beautiful, 6ft tall, slender, evil enchantress - of some weirdly-exotic origin. 


Jeffrey Cantrell said...

Thanks for this. I have always been partial to Diana Damerau's rendition in Die Zauberflote. This, after listening to several artists' versions. Most are very good but fail at some point, either too fast, slurring of triplets, etc. not measuring up to Damerau. This is the first time I have listened in depth to Deutekom's performance and I agree, it is superb. I have a new standard

Bruce Charlton said...


I have previously written (the link is above) about Damreau's performance that was filmed - I can't imagine anyone doing it better live. Singing is excellent, and her acting is simply superb.

There is on YouTube a filmed version of Deutekom singing Holle Rache lived, and - well, let's put it kindly - she does all her acting with her singing.

But it shows that the singing of the Queen, live, was much the same as in the studio - i.e. incredible; although her high notes were too much for the microphones to take comfortably! Everything looks easy!