MOZART UNDER DRUGS ?

Die Zauberflöte

Ensemble (Foto © Salzburger Festspiele / Ruth Walz)

Die Zauberflöte, opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work was premiered on 30 September 1791 at Schikaneder’s theatre, the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna. Performance of the Salzburger Festspiele in the Grosses Festspielhaus on July 31st 2018.

Sarastro: Matthias Goerne
Tamino: Mauro Peter
Die Königin der Nacht: Albina Shagimuratova
Pamina: Christiane Karg
Erste Dame: Ilse Eerens
Zweite Dame: Paula Murrihy
Dritte Dame: Geneviève King
Papageno: Adam Plachetka
Papagena: Maria Nazarova
Monostatos: Michael Porter
Sprecher: Tareq Nazmi
Großvater: Klaus Maria Brandauer
Drei Knaben: Wiener Sängerknaben

Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker

Conductor: Constantinos Carydis
Staging: Lydia Steier

Music:
Staging:

There was only one, strong buster blowing through the hot night in Salzburg, when I left the „Große Festspielhaus“ – but I was sure it was caused by Mozart himself, rotating in his grave and ranting over what they have done to his Zauberflöte in his very own city.

Where to start? Well, I honestly do not know. It was such a razzmatazz that it is difficult to describe. Not even starting with the singers will help to find much positive about it, because when the three child-spirits and the three ladies get the loudest applause, you know there was something wrong with the rest of the cast. The worst mistake in casting was Sarastro, Matthias Goerne. A baritone, who has sung Papageno in the past, is definitely bogus for that very low, black role. And he proved it. Barely audible, he desperately tried to hit the very low notes, alas, in vain most of the time (or maybe he even did, but the audience could not hear it?). Pale, strained, and unimpressive was his performance. He was joined by Tamino, Mauro Peter, who was doing slightly better. Accent on “slightly”. He showed a passably powerful middle range, but the high notes were inconsistent, and often pushed. Better was Adam Plachetka as Papageno. He convinced with his comic acting and a steady singing performance.

The female voices left a better impression than the male ones. Christiane Karg as Pamina and Maria Nazarova as Papagena did a good job, were secure in the heights and overall constant. Albina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night was very good, and even hit the B flat – for a short moment. One could see it caused her strain, but it was not audible. She was strong all over the evening, with a very impressive facial expression. The best, however, were the three boys from the Vienna Boys Choir, and the three ladies – not to forget the chorus (Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor). Conductor Constantinos Charydis created some nice moments, but I could not see a “personal style” in his conducting.

For example, while Tamino’s “Bildnisarie” was appearing to be played in slow motion, he hurried through the “Flötenarie” “Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton”. That behaviour was kept throughout the evening – inconsistent tempi and loudness.

However, in this performance, it was almost impossible (intentionally?) to concentrate on the singers, anyway, since the “stage (non) concept” was extremely distracting. Stage director Lydia Steier, costume designer Ursula Kudmer and stage designer Katharina Schlipf had created something that is impossible to explain. “Shamble” would probably be the nicest description.

The idea of a grandfather (Klaus-Maria Brandauer) telling a fairy tale to his three grandsons – who then live through the plot in their fantasy – was not so bad. At the beginning. After a while it became boring, though, and threw a monkey wrench into the story line. The rest of the staging was a wild, unexplainable mix of horror figures, circus artists, World War pictures, weird costumes and make-ups, social criticism (or whatever that slow motion scene with some protesting workers, listening to a silently gesturing Sarastro might have meant), and inscrutable adumbrations.

During some moments, I found myself guessing which horror film character those creatures on stage could be. I thought to detect Edward Scissorhands, Chucky, the killer doll from Child’s Play, the evil Joker from Batman, and several others. Men dressed as fat female nurses, appearing in hordes with children’s push chairs, bloody clowns with soldier helmets, a ballet in bear costumes with pink feathers on their heads, while ballet dancers in tutus had to wear bear heads, Chinese whatsoever with iron prickers around their necks – they all appeared in an incoherent order. In front of an iron scaffold (meant to symbolize what?), it was a constant, disturbing, meaningless parade of malformed figures, performing inapprehensible moves. As someone in the intermission stated, “I want the drugs they used, must be some pretty hard stuff.” – and I can only join that honest man. All in all that “staging” seemed to have its source in drug-related dreams, or in some mental disorder, or just in some unsolved children’s nightmares – or in all of them.

Pity, that it for sure cost a fortune to create all those unnecessary costumes and constructions. If I were asked for a suggestion (which, alas, will not happen), I’d tell the responsible persons to invest less money in weird stage ideas, but more into reasonable singers appropriate for a Festival like the Salzburger Festspiele. After all, Die Zauberflöte is an opera. You know…  that’s something about singing!

Additional note: This performance was filmed by ORF in HD, and will be shown on Austrian TV ORF and on ARTE on 4th, on 5th of August, 2018, there will be an abbreviated telecast on German ZDF. I am almost certain, they will edit some singing until then, though…

Further performances on August 4, 7, 15, 24 and 30, 2018.

Gabi Eder (Published on 1/8/2018)

 

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