Monday, April 8, 2013

Die Zauberflöte aus Baden Baden 2013 – Review Part 2: It Takes a Village

Blindfolds. I'm tired of 'em.
Someone else can explain 'em this time.
The only characters who remain distinguishable from the crowd throughout this Zauberflöte are Pamina, Tamino, and Papageno, who wanders in from the lobby, as if from another show. Like Tamino, Pamina is literally thrown into the action. Several choristers grab her and plop her on the ground for her first scene with Monostatos.

Everyone else steps in from the chorus to be or do whatever is needed to move the story along and get the two couples united in the end; then they meld back into the ensemble. 

Even the Queen of the Night and Sarastro disappear into the crowd when they are not taking an active role on stage. And they are not the mythic figures we’re used to seeing. He is a pleasant-looking gentleman in a suit; and she is a chic if somewhat high-strung woman in a little black dress. Monostatos is neither black or in blackface (thank goodness) but a grave digger with an evil streak. Papagena, in old-lady drag, first appears from a casket, looking like she stepped out of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

A chic Queen of the Night
Alliances are not what we expect in this production. About half-way through the opera, it becomes clear that Sarastro and the Queen of the Night are working together. Everyone (the whole gathering) really wants the kids to end up together. She is supportively nearby when Sarastro sends Pamina in to help Tamino with his trials. And they lead the couple together at the end.  

It reminds me a bit of The Fantasticks, where the dads convince their kids to get together by making the union forbidden and difficult. I like the concept, but I’m not 100% convinced by this staging. 

It is nice, however, to see everyone reconciled—even the Three Ladies and Monostatos—tutti contenti at the end.

Tamino, Papageno, und der Schlange.
The three couples in this opera are convincingly sung and nicely contrasted. Pavol Breslik and Kate Royal as Tamino and Pamina are pleasing with their smooth lyrical voices. Ana Durlovski and Dimitry Ivashchenko are royal, though not as dark as expected—and that’s OK—as the Queen of the Night and Sarastro. 

Papageno is a pretty difficult to mess up, unless the baritone either has no character at all, or can’t sing. Michael Nagy has nether issue and is charming, smooth-voiced, and engaging in the role. His Papagena, Regula Mühlemann, is equally charming.

The Three Ladies' Cadenza
Festival settings permit some luxury casting, José van Dam un-retires briefly to play the Speaker; and much has been made of the starry casting of the Three Ladies: Annick Massis, Magdalena Kožená, and Nathalie Stutzmann. I couldn’t help wondering if these three divas were a handful during staging. They seem to be having fun, but are never quite in synch. 

They were always in sync musically, though—great blend, great balance, and a great cadenza at the end of their opening trio (musically set up just like an opera seria cadenza.) I didn’t even know there was a cadenza there. Although it doesn’t do much for the drama, they do have fun with it, both musically and dramatically. However one can understand why it’s not usually (ever?) performed. Other singers added discreet ornamentation, which pleasantly distinguished this performance from “all the rest.”

Magic Flutes for everyone!
There are a few synchronization issues between the stage and the pit, probably a result of the short rehearsal time. I usually admire Simon Rattle’s work, and he does nothing egregious here. On the other hand, he seems to set some rather willful and unprovoked tempo extremes now and then. At one point in Act 2, I feared the singers would be completely left in the dust.

That said, it's a well-sung, well-played performance. The Berlin Philharmonic is a heck of a great pit orchestra. All in all, this Zauberflöte is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening. It'll be available at Arte Liveweb for about 80 more days.

The Berliner Philharmoniker also presented Zauberflöte in concert last night (April 9) in the Philharmonie, with the same principal cast. The concert can be viewed (soon) at the Digital Concert Hall

Related Links
Review Part 1 An Earthly Kind of Magic


  1. The cadenza appeared in the autograph, but it seems that it was soon deleted by Mozart himself. It comes as an appendix in some editions. I agree with the composer's final opinion about it.

    1. I agree. It was fun to hear it but Herr Mozart (as if he needs MY approval) definitely made the right choice.


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