Lucky Berliners: Kosky’s Magic Flute

 GermanyGermany  Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Komische Oper, Berlin, Kristiina Poska (conductor), Komische Oper, Berlin, 21.4.2014 (JR)

Pamina                           Brigitte Geller
Tamino                           Adrian Strooper
Queen of the Night       Hulkar Sabirova
Sarastro, Speaker        Dimitry Ivaschenko
Papageno                     Tom Erik Lie
Pagagena                      Adela Zaharia
Monostatos                    Peter Renz
Three Ladies                Johanni van Oostrum, Karolina Gumos, Ezgi Kutlu
Two Armoured Men    Christoph Späth, Carsten Sabrowski
Three Boys                   Julian Höflmaier, Toni Schäffler, Julian Mezger

Directors                  Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky
Animation                Paul Barritt
Set and costumes  Esther Bialas
Lighting                    Diego Leetz
Chorusmaster        David Cavelius


Berlin can consider itself a lucky city as can any musical visitor. Three significant opera houses and a number of fine orchestras now grace the city after reunification. On a recent stay with my family, and with the Berlin Philharmonic on tour with Simon Rattle in Baden-Baden, I plumped for Barrie Kosky’s Magic Flute at the Komische Oper. (The glittering Staatsoper on Unter den Linden is undergoing major restoration and I could sadly not make it for Wagner at the Deutsche Oper).

The Komische Oper concentrates on lighter opera and operetta, dress code is relaxed (I was the only man wearing a tie), the audience very mixed. This production was seen last year in Los Angeles where Jane Rosenberg reviewed it for Seen And Heard (Link to her review) and seen by colleague Mark Berry in Berlin just a week before I saw it  (Link to his review), so I will dispense with description, except to urge you to see a trailer on YouTube to give you a flavour of the witty and inventive production which delights those from 8 to 80 (Link to trailer).  It has been running in Berlin to capacity audiences since November 2012 and is set to become a classic. The Komische Oper is not a large house and this aided this cinematic production; surtitles on the back of each seat had a choice of language, German, English, French and Turkish, reflecting Berlin’s large Turkish community.  The opera lends itself to popularisation; I prefer light-heartedness in this work to turgidity or eroticism.

Now the downsides: whilst the production was often hilarious, one was rather distracted from the music, though I was pleased to be relieved of the spoken dialogues which were replaced by speech bubbles.  None of the singers really impressed: Brigitte Geller as Pamina and Adrian Strooper were colourless, the Queen of the Night (Hulkar Sabirova) was unable to hit those famous top notes. Acting honours go to warm baritone Tom Erik Lie, in a splendid rust-coloured suit and silly hat. Best voice was Russian bass Dimitry Ivaschenko as Sarastro. Many singers have to contend with being hoisted to the top of the stage and twisted round to perch on tiny stools whilst the cinematic goings-on whizz round them. It does not aid their vocal projection and means they remain fairly static. Movement is provided in picture form.

The three Ladies were a fine and comic bunch and the three boys from Tölz (in Bavaria, a long way from Berlin) were superlative.

I was taken by Kristiina Poska’s very sprightly conducting; it meant that the opera never dragged . The playing of the orchestra showed what a pool of impressive players this city can offer.

But there was no doubt that the chief attraction for this audience was neither Mozart nor the singers (whose biographies were not even included in the cast leaflet) but the production which I considered myself lucky to witness – a production which was probably a main factor in Barrie Kosky being recently and (on the strength of this production alone) justifiably named as Opera Producer of the Year.

John Rhodes

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