Be prepared! – Tandberg’s Boy Scout “Magic Flute” is in Stockholm

SwedenSweden  Mozart Tollflöjten (Die Zauberflöte):  Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm, Stefan Klingele, conductor. 17.10.2012

Sets and direction: Ole Anders Tandberg
Costumes: Maria Geber
Lighting design: Ellen Ruge
Choreography: Anna Koch

Tamino:  Daniel Johansson
Pamina:  Ida Falk Winland
Queen of the Night:  Susanna Stern
Sarastro:  Michael Schmidberger
Papageno:  Carl Ackerfeldt
Papagena:  Vivianne Holmberg
Monostatos:  Daniel Ralphsson
Speaker:  Johan Edholm
First Lady:  Marianne Hellgren Staykov
Second Lady:  Susann Végh
Third Lady:  Katarina Leoson
A Pries:  Anders Blom
Two Guards of Death:  Jesper Taube, Alar Pintsaar
Three boys:  Laura Orostica, Klara Zangerl, Eskil Krook Bull Simonsen

Daniel Johansson and Ida Falk Winland © Hans Nilsson Royal Swedish Opera

This is Ole Anders Tandberg’s third Mozart production at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. I was overwhelmed by his first essay, Così fan tutte, a little more than five years ago. In March 2010 he maltreated Le nozze di Figaro far beyond the limits of good taste, which caused me to regard the production as an ideal radio opera. What would happen this time? Back to square one, I had hoped. Not quite, I have to say, but not too far off the mark.

Full of interesting ideas Tandberg brought us in to the action as soon as the overture started. And we were in a classroom, students having a test in ornithology, stuffed birds on every desk. Clever, but why? A latecomer stepped in, tiptoed down to an empty desk, everybody looking at her. Oh yes, an outsider! What will become of her? And who is she? Questions arise. Overture over and someone in the first row in the stalls suddenly stands up, nicely dressed in dark suit, starts singing. Yeah, that’s Tamino of course, and he has problems. ‘Å hjälp mig’ (Oh, help me) – the production is sung in Swedish – he shouts (fine spinto tenor, really!) and help arrives: three uniformed ladies from the opera house staff burst in and one of them goes in clinch with the panicking tenor and – whoops! – produces a writhing snake from the tenors pants, or …? Hard to see from my seat in the dress circle. Anyway, the tenor faints and the staff – I mean, the three ladies rush away and soon appear on the stage. Right, such things can happen – and do happen – when Ole Anders Tandberg is in charge. Who says that there shouldn’t be close encounters between the actors and their audience. Tandberg doesn’t anyway.

And there are surprises galore. Enter Papageno. And it’s his birds in that classroom. He sings his bird catcher song and accompanies his singing with a large assortment of birds’ whistles instead of the usual pan flute. Great fun. You get the picture? It’s not a traditional Zauberflöte, it’s Ole Anders Tandberg’s Trollflöjten. The Freemason aspect, controversial also in 1790s Vienna, is toned down. Sarastro and his … gang are a scout patrol – Sarastro with crouches moreover. The three boys are spiritual beings, almost transparent in white, Monostatos a lecherous priest in black, there is a lovely group of big brown bears, threatening at first but then dancing so beautifully. NO, I won’t tell you more about the production as such. It is fun, fun, fun. I only wish it had been more beautiful. Trollflöjten is a fairytale of good and evil – yes, I know, they change roles just before half-time, but they do in fairytales. And in fairytales princes look like princes – but of course in real-life nowadays princes look like …office-clerks in dark suit, so why shouldn’t Tamino look like a modern prince?

Papageno without feathers is quite OK today, very few children of nature are feathered and when he eventually gets his Papagena they simply do as everybody else: they strip and make love – but within the frames of decency.

One last detail for you, dear reader, to ponder upon until you see the production with your own eyes: Why, in the very last scene, do Sarastro and The Queen of the Night, the eternal enemies, embrace and kiss before they entwined sink through the floor down to the underworld? Tandberg provokes but we have to find the answers ourselves.

No cook can serve a stew with well-known ingredients but in so spicy gravy as this without committed servants who can argue in favour of the dish, and Ole Anders Tandberg has gathered an utterly service-minded staff: Mostly young and some of them almost fresh from restaurant school, talkative, flexible and with telling body-language. Good voices too. You rarely hear spinto tenors as Tamino but it pays dividends – and gives regal fringe to the character – with a powerful hero also in this opera. Siegfried Jerusalem, later to become Bayreuth’s Siegfried, was a splendid Tamino, while at the same time singing Lohengrin. Daniel Johansson, who impressed as Rodolpho in Dalhalla a couple of months ago, will probably develop in the same direction. Ida Falk Winland, already well established internationally, doesn’t have that innocent sweetness one expects from a Pamina, but the little edge in her tone instead tells us that this is a girl not to be tampered with. Susanna Stern, who was Norina in the Stockholm production of Don Pasquale last year, was a surprisingly strong and powerful Queen of the Night, especially impressive in the fiendishly difficult Der Hölle Rache in the second act. Her husband (?) – according to some sources Sarastro and The Queen of the Night are Pamina’s parents – needs a rock-steady and pitch-black lower end of the voice to make the two arias tell and Michael Schmidberger lacks the volume down there, but elsewhere he was fine and surpassed his Sarastro in Dalhalla a couple of years ago.

Papageno is a dream role for a good singing actor and Carl Ackerfeldt has the lightness and the timing to make the character both jolly and touching. He had a lovely Papagena in Vivianne Holmberg. Daniel Ralphsson was an oily and dangerous Monostatos and Johan Edholm a thunderous Speaker – but he has developed a heavy vibrato that is a bit worrying. The three ladies were excellent and rarely have I heard the three boys – two of them actually girls – sing so well in tune. They sounded like members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir!

Stefan Klingele showed his credentials as Mozart conductor in the aforementioned La nozze di Figaro a couple of years ago and he kept things well together.

Oh, yes! That girl coming late to the biology test during the overture – guess who it was? Pamina of course!

Provocative or not – this Trollflöjten is well worth a visit to the Royal Opera in Stockholm.

Göran Forsling