Post-Modernist Zauberflöte Dispenses with Dialogue

GermanyGermany Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Komische Oper, Berlin, Kristiina Poska (conductor). Komische Oper, Berlin, 13.4.2014 (MB)


Pamina – Adela Zaharia
Tamino – Adrian Strooper
Queen of the Night – Olga Pudova
Sarastro, Speaker – Alexey Antonov
Papageno – Tom Erik Lie
Papagena – Julia Giebel
Monostatos – Peter Renz
Three Ladies – Mirka Wagner, Theresa Kronthaler, Caren von Oijen
Two Armoured Men – Christoph Späth, Bogdan Talos
Three Boys – Jakob Göpfert, Laurenz Ströbl, Samuel Baur
Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky (directors)
Paul Barritt (animation)
Esther Bialas (designs)
Diego Leetz (lighting)


It seems more difficult to produce a satisfying Magic Flute than one might expect, if not nearly so difficult as the case of Don Giovanni. Barrie Kosky and the British Theatre Group ‘1927’ (Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt) come closer than many with this intriguing ‘silent film’ treatment. Doubtless predictably, I think it sells short the seriousness at the heart of this extraordinary work, but crucially, unlike many stagings falling into that category, it retains a space for one to think, to imagine and indeed to think of more serious things oneself. It was a pity that a sizeable section of the audience, seemingly intent on taking every opportunity to applaud through the music, did not avail itself of that space, but anyway… In Kosky’s words, ‘This concentration on images makes it possible for each spectator of the show to experience very much his own way,’ and to a large extent, that worked in practice.

In a reworking both radical and not, the dialogue – at least as dialogue – is dispensed with. Certain passages, old and new, conversational and explicatory, appear as part of 1927’s film. Whilst there are losses, and one clearly would not want to experience the work like this all the time, it is striking how much remains. And whilst Schikaneder deserves more credit than is often his due – how often one hears his magical, enabling text belittled! – it is of course for Mozart that we come to this work. What we see centres upon the 1920s, but is not confined to that era: associations, some freer than others, are made through what Andrade in a programme interview describes as ‘a journey through the most diverse fantasy worlds’. Meanwhile, what do we hear? Music from Mozart’s Fantasias for solo piano – to add to the post-modernism, on fortepiano. And yet, this somehow emerges as postmodernism that works. It might sound absurd to have Papageno dream of a pink cocktail (instead of his win), and through his experience to see pink elephants, but the free association benefits from the conviction of the ‘original’. It is certainly refreshing to experience the fruits of imagination as opposed to the mere silliness we often endure.

Musically, the situation was more mixed. Bonnie Wagner’s playing of the fortepiano – not in general, my usual readers will know, a favourite instrument of mine – was excellent: strong yet yielding, hinting at a larger whole yet imparting particular character to each ‘excerpt’. Kristiina Poska’s conducting was more problematical, despite generally fine playing from the orchestra. Most of the first act, from the Overture onwards, was rushed. Various tempi can work, of course, but the very difficult trick is to make them work; here, too often, one felt Mozart’s score hurried. Matters settled down in much of the second act, however, and it was a relief to hear a performance of Pamina’s aria that, whilst certainly not of the Colin Davis variety, allowed Mozart’s pathos to shine through. Indeed, Adela Zaharia, a member of the Komische Oper’s Opera Studio, was definitely one of the stars of the show: hers was a genuinely touching performance.

Her Tamino, Adrian Strooper, had his moments, offering a generally winning earnestness, but sometimes forced his voice. Tom Erik Lie was a characterful Papageno, hints of sadness informing even his most ebullient moments. Olga Pudova’s Queen of the Night did pretty much everything asked of her – often with considerable sparkle. The Sarastro of Alexey Antonov and Monostatos of Peter Renz were disappointing, however: the latter often shouting rather than singing, the former woolly of tone and too often insecure of pitch. The Three Ladies – Mirka Wagner, Theresa Kronthaler, and Caren van Oijen – were an excellent bunch, however, both individually and as a group. So were the Three Boys from Tölz: Jakob Göpfert, Laurenz Ströbl, and Samuel Baur. I am not sure I have heard better. Above all what impressed here was not only a strong sense of company but also of commitment to the staging, to the drama as a whole. That is worth a good deal – and the Komische Oper is strongly to be commended for it.

Mark Berry

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