Not So Magic Flute in San Sebastian

SpainSpain W.A. Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Soloists, Euskadi Symphony Orchestra, Easo Chorus, Jaime Martín (conductor), Kursaal, San Sebastian, 13.8.2012 (JMI)

Director: Alfonso Romero
Sets: Ricardo Sánchez Cuerda
Costumes: Gabriela Salaverri
Lighting: Rafael Mojas

Tamino: Kenneth Tarver
Pamina: Auxiliadora Toledano
Sarastro: Dmitri Ivaschenko
Papageno: Leigh Melrose
Queen of the Night: Jeannette Vecchione
Monostatos: Francisco Vas
Papagena: Marifé Nogales
Narrator: Jose Manuel Díaz
The Three Ladies: Vanessa Goikoetxea, Alina Furman, Natalia Lunar

Picture courtesy Quincena Musical, © Iñigo Ibáñez

San Sebastian’s Quincena Musical is in its 73rd year, and opera is still only an afterthought in its program. In 2012, Die Zauberflöte is the only opera on the bill. The show was a hit with the audience (which included many kids), but one I couldn’t share and scarcely comprehend. The success cannot have been based on the singers (some of them downright inadequate, few outstanding), nor on the production (of scant interest) and not even on Mozart’s music (poorly served by the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra under Jaime Martín). I reckon the success must be attributed to Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist (and first interpreter of Papageno). It’s a fun and witty, effortlessly comprehensible story that’s easy for the audience to enjoy, many of them probably seeing a Magic Flute for the first time.

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W.A.Mozart, Die Zauberflöte,
R.Jacobs / Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
D.Behle, M.Petersen, D.Schmutzhard, S.Im et al.
Harmonia Mundi

The set was unfortunately just a juxtaposition of scenes, without any overarching idea developed. But then it’s not a simple narration of a tale, either: The first act, for example, begins in a field hospital (bound to reoccur at intervals later in the opera), with a single patient and his nurse. Enter Tamino, the paratrooper! (Perhaps Kenneth Branagh served as the, inadequately executed, inspiration?) The direction also made Sarastro’s character look absurd and some scenes of the trials outright ridiculous.

It is a mistake to have an inexperienced, inexpert conductor – Jaime Martín – conducting a Mozart opera, as if Mozart were easy. (It isn’t). His tempi were erratic, the direction heavy handed, and the performance further suffered from insufficient orchestral balance (thanks to a anemic string section), and lack of coordination between stage and pit.

American tenor Kenneth Tarver was a correct and pleasantly voiced Tamino. But while no one is asking for a Heldentenor in Mozart, his voice could need a little more weight for Tamino to suit him well. Auxiliadora Toledano’s Pamina was one the best aspects of the casting: She has a very attractive timbre, she sings with gusto, and works the stage well. The young Russian bass Dmitri Ivaschenko was a truly remarkable Sarastro. His voice is large and pleasant, somewhat whitish at the top, and he is quickly becoming one of the most sought after basses today.

The smallish-voiced Leigh Melrose acted his Papageno well, but vocally he offered little of interest. American soprano Jeanette Vecchione was not well suited to the demands of the Queen of the Night. Her middle range is very weak, verging on the inaudible. The top notes are bitter and can sound shouted – something her fine coloratura can’t entirely make up for. Francisco Vas (Monostatos) and Marife Nogales (Papagena) acquitted themselves nicely, but the Three Ladies left much to be desired.

José Mª Irurzun