Sunday, April 7, 2013

Die Zauberflöte aus Baden Baden 2013 – Review Part 1: An Earthly Kind of Magic

Tamino sings to the portrait of Pamina.
This Zauberflöte is about death. Well, not about death, but death plays a prominent role. In one of the video blogs leading up to the performance, director Robert Carsen points out the multiple suicide attempts, murder threats, and attempted rapes (see below). That being said, while it’s not fluffy and cartoon-ish, it’s far from the darkest, stuffiest interpretation I’ve seen.

The action takes place in a grassy field on the edge of the forest, in the forest, and directly below (three vertiginously long ladders descend from the flies to the dirt on stage at the beginning of the act). The forest shows changes of seasons through projections. Also the first time we see Pamina’s portrait, it is projected in place of the forest. Effective use of the projections, scrims, curtains, and lighting make for swift scene changes.

Act 2 begins underground.
Robert Carsen often gives us theater-within-a-theater, and during the overture we might think that’s what we’re getting. The cast, wearing street clothes, wanders in through the theater, and settles around the pit to watch the orchestra. 

As the first scene begins, chorus members grab the unsuspecting Tamino and the crowd carries him off and dumps him in an open grave, where he wrestles with the killer snake.

Magic bells appear from the orchestra pit.
I have to admit I miss the magic a little bit. Instead of appearing in lightening and puffs of smoke, the Queen of the Night walks in from the wings for her first number; at the end of her aria, she gives Tamino a heavy kiss, then saunters off stage. She's a very human queen. At the same time, there are cute, funny touches. When someone in the pit hands the First Lady the magic flute (a modern silver Boehm-keyed model), Tamino takes it, then goes over and peers curiously into the pit; Papageno’s bells appear the same way (his usual bamboo pipes are replaces with a melodica*). Instead of an actual padlock, the Third Lady uses an automobile remote control to secure Papageno's mouth, complete with sound effect. 

The Three Boys in Tamino drag.
The Three Boys are first seen kicking a soccer ball around. Later, they are costumed to reflect the character they are supporting, usually Tamino. I didn’t notice this till they appeared in white dresses, which seemed really odd, till I realized they matched Pamina. When they intervene in Papageno’s suicide, they are in matching Papageno outfits, complete with backpack, bedroll, and cooler.

By the way, there is one real death. The Three Ladies enter to rescue Tamino, carrying pistols with which they shoot the snake. Now, there’s an argument for keeping a handgun in your purse. I thought it was funny, and for me it set the tone for not-too-dark, not-too-light, just-right Zauberflote

Robert Carsen discusses his production, which also will 
be seen soon in Paris and Madrid. 

Related Links:
Review Part 2 It Takes a Village

*In the Berliner Philharmoniker vlog, Michael Nagy as Papegno demonstrates his melodica skills to Philharmonic horn player Sara Willis by playing the big horn solo from Bach's B-Minor Mass (about six minutes in).

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