Die Zauberflöte, Singspiel by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. First performed on September 1791 in the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna. Performance by the Sächsische Staatsoper in the Semperoper in Dresden on 6 June 2019.
Tamino: Joseph Dennis
Sprecher: Matthias Henneberg
Königin der Nacht: Antonina Vesenina
Pamina: Mirella Hagen
Erste Dame: Ute Selbig
Zweite Dame: Grace Durham
Dritte Dame: Michal Doron
Papageno: Bernhard Hansky
Monostatos: Simeon Esper
Papagena: Tania Lorenzo
Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Dirigent: Felix Krieger
Regie: Achim Freyer
It was neither magic, nor was there a flute. So, I’ll write about “the” thing for which I wasted almost three hours of my precious time and quite some money.
What a pity I am not longer 4 years old. Or 14. In both cases I probably would have had a funny evening at the Semperoper in Dresden on the 6th of June with Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute.
But unfortunately, I am slightly older than 4. Or 14. So, I left the beautiful house quite angry and offended. I have seen countless Magic Flute performances, weird productions of all sorts. Stage directors seem to love to misuse the Magic Flute for their crazy ideas. I have seen a gay Tamino in a nuthouse, a Papagena sung by a bass, a Queen of the Night in a brothel. “It is a fairy tale opera, so there is enough space for fantasy,” some people try to excuse those insane changes of Mozart’s original ideas.
Opera buffa vs. opera weirdo
Well, changes were not that many in this Dresden’s production by Achim Freyer – aside of parts of the text. But his idea to show the world and the opera “through the eyes of a child”, as the stage concept was explained, did not work for me. It sounded quite OK at first. The oversized doors with unreachable door handles showed how a child must see a door. But do children really see people with penises on their heads? Do children see adults with clown make-up in oversized clown outfits only? Tamino looked like Buster “Pagliacci” Keaton, Sarastro like a mixture between a kitschy enlightened Statue of Liberty and Maya the bee. All his priests had the same blond 1970-ish wig and glasses, looking and acting just like a bunch of idiots. Talking of idiots: many protagonists frequently had to do the same movements, simultaneously. Pointing to the left, pointing to the right, holding the arms up or sideward, dancing a sort of Cancan in slow-motion. All “as children see it”?
This Magic Flute did not contain a flute at all. Magic? It was symbolised by Tamino (and sometimes Pamina, simultaneously, of course), holding his hands parallel in front of his chest. Ah well, they left that for our imagination. To make up for the lack of the eponymous instrument, this Magic Flute contained airplanes, delivering messages and the three ladies.
At the beginning I found it all just heavily overdrawn, but acceptable and bearable. After all, it is a fairy-tale opera, “lots of space for fantasy and imagination”, isn’t it? However, after a while I started to really feel bored. And embarrassed. Did they really expect me to laugh, because Papageno with his too big shoes stumbled for the third time and fell on his butt for the third time like a clown in a circus? Come on, I am not 4 any longer. Were I still 4, I would probably have laughed about the intended pun with the word “Schloss”, which has a double meaning in German (“padlock” and “castle”). Instead of locking Papageno’s mouth with a padlock, they put a castle on his head. How funny – for a 4 years old in a Punch and Judy Show.
Did they really expect me to laugh, when Papageno pulls his bird-shaped penis out of his trousers, as soon as he expresses his desire for a girl? Well, I might have laughed, if I were still 14. But only once. After the third time it is impossible to find it funny, even for a 14-years old. Penises must have something “magic” for Mr Freyer, anyway – oh no, I forgot: we see it “through the eyes of children”. So: penises must have something magic for children. Those two men with caps full of huge penises and the slaves in “matching” whole-body costumes for sure have a deeper meaning. For children. Papagena’s oversized vagina on her belly and Papageno’s bird-shaped penis (which we are already so familiar with) obviously matched at the end. And apparently, they even produced little baby-birds (one of them in black, though), which they both pulled out of their oversized trousers.
More than once my husband and I looked at each other, asking ourselves: are we in a kindergarten performance? Or do they consider us being retarded, and they twit us? Or is there a hidden camera somewhere, and are they making fun of us, testing our patience and giving us our money back at the end? But this hope was in vain. They really meant it to be a “serious art work, almost a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’” by a “stage director legend”, as one elderly man tried to explain me in the intermission. Maybe I have lost my “view through the eyes of a child” – but I found it only utterly dumb, and extremely lacklustre. And I do not care about “legends” or announced “art work”, when I only feel taken the mick out of me by the boring result.
Boredom in notes
Boring – is the keyword for the music, too. For me, music seemed to play a minor part on that evening, probably because I was too upset to really concentrate on it. The singers were not bad, but also not exciting. None of them had “unique” attributes that would especially electrify me. For me, the best singer of the evening was Pamina, Mirella Hagen. She showed a very sweet, clear, lyric soprano, youthful, but elegant and flexible, very pleasant to listen to.
Tamino Joseph Dennis mastered the role without problems, he has a nice timbre, which especially shines in louder parts. Papageno Bernhard Hansky sang well, but sometimes I could barely hear him (in row one). His voice is fine, but not big. His acting was the most passionate of the evening, though. He seemed to have a lot of fun with his role. Nothing to complain about Papagena, Tania Lorenzo, a member of the “Young Ensemble” of the Semperoper. She did a good job, too. Antonia Vesenina as Queen of the Night had a bad crack in the coloraturas of her “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” aria, but mastered the famous and difficult “Der Hölle Rache” without voice problems. Breathing was a different story, though, and I am not completely sure, whether or not the aria was transposed down a halftone. Sarastro, Dimitry Ivashchenko, was good, but too “light” for my taste, not “dark” enough. The low notes in “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” were hardly audible. For Sarastro, I expect a weighty, massive voice, but the only massive thing were his 50 cm (or more?) high platform shoes he was forced to wear in order to appear like a yellow giant. The ladies had good voices, very well matching and contrasting. All other roles and supporting roles – OK, but nothing special.
It might have to do with my overall feeling that evening, and maybe I am unfair, but I found Felix Krieger’s conducting and the orchestra’s performance uninspired and boring, too.
Conclusions of that evening: I did neither see any magic, nor a flute – so I saw a rather disappointing “The” only – and I regretted my decision to spend money and time on it. Next time I am in Dresden, I will think twice about booking an opera ticket, and rather watch a video of the still beautiful production with Hermann Prey/Gösta Winbergh from Geneva, 1952.
Gabi Eder (Published on 8/6/2019)