Sweden Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Soloists, Vattnäs Chamber Orchestra / Mattias Böhm (conductor). Vattnäs Konsertlada, Vattnäs, Sweden, 15.7.2022. (GF)
Direction – Anna Larsson
Sets – Göran Eliasson
Lighting design – Jimmy Svensson
Concept & Costumes – Anna Larsson & Göran Eliasson
Masks – Robin Karlsson
Queen of the Night – Lydia Kjellberg
Tamino – Tobias Westman
Pamina – Alva Olsson
Sarastro – Benjamin Molonfalean
Papageno – Göran Eliasson
Papagena – Lisa Gustafsson
First Lady – Maja Frydén
Second Lady – Rebecca Fjellsby
Third Lady – Carolina Bengtsdotter Ljung
Monostatos – Clifford Lewis
Speaker & Second Watchman – Johan Rydh
First Genius – Anna Baek Christensen
Second Genius – Katarina Böhm
Third Genius – Ghonchegol Assadi
After a modern classic, Britten’s The Rape of Lucrezia and a revival of a Swedish masterpiece from the 1990s, Tokfursten, the Vattnäs team, Anna Larsson and Göran Eliasson, focused on new commissions, until staging Wagner’s Das Rheingold in a tailormade reduction of the gigantic score in 2019 – a triumphant production on the minimal stage in the concert barn.
In 2020 the whole world was paralysed by the pandemic, but in 2021 they were back with a new work again, depicting Wagner’s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. The pandemic was still upon us and it had to be played before a drastically reduced number of visitors. Unfortunately, I missed that production, but this year they are back without restrictions and have produced a true classic: Mozart’s enchanting fairy-tale Die Zauberflöte, Trollflöjten in Swedish – and of course it is sung in the vernacular, just as it was in Ingmar Bergman’s filmed version of almost fifty years ago. I am sure most of those present at the premiere in Vattnäs had seen the film and could relate to it. Comparisons are unnecessary however, as Anna Larsson and Göran Eliasson have created their own phantasy world – even though they basically use the same translation (by Alf Henrikson) with some modifications. (The Chorus of the Priests – which is the only important chorus – was cut, and there were several other cuts as well, and the off-stage shouts of ‘Zurück’ before the scene with the Speaker, were sung by a solo voice. Considering the minimal size of the stage there is no room for a chorus. And I am happy that most of the spoken dialogue was trimmed.)
As has become the norm, the orchestra is placed on the balcony, above and behind the audience, but during the overture we got a glimpse of conductor Mattias Böhm and the front desks of the orchestra, projected on the curtain, which soon opened and revealed a blossoming fairy-tale landscape. Centre-stage an elevation, sprinkled with greenery, which also served as a mini-stage for the Queen of the Night, and later as an altar.
The story is well-known. Prince Tamino falls in love with the picture of Pamina, and together with Papageno, the child of nature – who also searches for a woman to love – this ill-matched couple begin searching for happiness. One can anticipate a message that this, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, points to a wish to wipe out class distinctions. Le nozze di Figaro a handful of years earlier pointed in the same direction. Parallel to this runs the power struggle between Sarastro and The Queen of the Night, the good versus the evil. To complicate things further, Schikaneder, the librettist, changes focus halfway through the drama, when the hitherto unseen Sarastro, who has been described as a tyrant, appears as a noble and fatherly peacemaker, dressed in white – a dead giveaway. Basically this is a traditional family conflict, a child custody case, in which the child, Pamina, is caught in the middle.
Add to this a helping of freemasonry hocus-pocus, a pinch of Egyptian religion, three mysterious genii who pop up whenever something goes wrong (in this version they are scientists, studying nature). All in all, not an easy work to understand. Why, then, is it one of the most popular operas in the repertoire worldwide? The music, of course. It is impossible not to be taken by the folksong-like melodies of Papageno, the romantic glow of Tamino’s and Pamina’s arias, the fireworks of the Queen of the Night or the noble humanity of Sarastro. I think one needs to have something of one’s childlike mind left and accept that genii exist, that Papageno catches birds for a living, that Tamino’s flute makes the animals dance, and that people must go through trials before they are allowed to have the girl or boy they love. Anna and Göran have preserved that childlike mind and created a delightful fairytale to indulge in earnest.
And they are marvelously well served by a wonderful cast of singing-actors who are obviously on the same wavelength. It may be unfair to single out individual singers, but Tobias Westman, who sang Tamino at Opera på Skäret three years ago, has honed his reading further and sang the role with a brilliance pointing to future dramatic spinto roles. Young Alva Olsson, only 22, was an uncommonly lovely Pamina. Göran Eliasson, who started his career as Tamino thirty years ago, and quite recently was a nasty Monostatos at the Stockholm Opera, was a sly Papageno, adding some local jokes as well. Lydia Kjellberg’s stratospheric Queen of the Night and Benjamin Molonfalean’s almost bottomless Sarastro were a well-contrasted couple, the latter, who is Romanian, should also be praised for his Swedish. But, as I have already said, everyone was deeply committed and contributed to a performance that dug deep into the hearts of the listeners, who responded with long applause and standing ovations. There is just one little fly in the ointment: the comprehensive and lavish programme book has all the texts in white against a dark background. It is elegant and designers love it, but people with reduced vision deplore it.