It is not difficult to understand why “The Magic Flute” is the most played of all operas.
The play is full of adventurous moments and features some of the most famous characters in operatic literature. Arias to Queen of the Night and Papageno are also in the public domain.
However, it is difficult to move away from the fact that the “magic flute” is approaching disaster from a theatrical point of view.
Saved by the director
The plot limits the absurd and the incomprehensible, the message of sublime masculine wisdom grapples with credibility, to say the least, and the jokes can’t always be said to have stood the test of time.
If you look at the ambitious artistic productions from the past decade, you get the impression that “The Magic Flute” is an opera that must be saved from its embarrassment by intense directing.
Britain’s Simon McBurney’s strategy is to let the innovative term distract attention from the weaknesses of the opera’s content. Something that works out, at least a good distance down the road.
clear from the start
McBurney’s ambition is clear even before the performance begins.
When the audience enters the auditorium, the conductor is already seated in front of the orchestra, in an orchestra pit only partially submerged. The show begins bluntly already when the light in the hall is on.
When the light is gradually lowered into the hall, the performance stage space appears more clearly. It mainly consists of an open black stage that has only a wide platform attached to the scaffolding with wires at each corner.
The platform acts in several ways during the performance: as a stage floor set at different heights, a steep incline level, a roof or rear wall, or as a separation between scenic elevation levels.
Magician stage craft
But McBurney has more to offer. On each outer edge of the stage are set designers who, via microphones and video cameras, create much of the visual and auditory expression of the show in real time.
For example, the huge serpent that chases Prince Tamino in the opening scene is drawn in chalk.
This is the first of many examples of how McBurney turns practical embarrassment into stunning theatrical effects.
Thus, the magic of performance lies largely in the craft of the theater itself.
Dark men and witches
However, the story McBurney wants to tell is more ambiguous.
The scenography gives the performance a dark feel. It is not clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel, although the end seems to come with peace and reconciliation between all parties.
The Queen of the Night sings partly in a wheelchair. Its strength is clearly not what it used to be.
It is difficult to determine whether a tried and tested woman with a legitimate agenda or an evil witch has burnout syndrome.
Sarastro and his male-dominated society do not appear as messengers of light either.
The associations go in the direction of the kind of Illuminati-like organization that is guiding the world towards the end of the world, with Saraastro as a charismatic and authoritarian leader.
The heart skips a beat
That Prince Tamino blindly trusts these people does not speak for him. He should have already run for his life when he saw what kind of brutal gang of thieves Sarastro had on his payroll (Monostatus and the rest of the slaves).
To get to the point: for natural reasons, McBurney wants to change the opera’s form in the simple distinction between the forces of good and evil.
Then, meanwhile, the opera’s beating heart slips away: the touching love story between Tamino and Pamina, two impressive young men who grow internally through external experiences.
Both seem overly stupid and naive in this direction.
If you had bought a used car from any of these people, the choice would have fallen on the immortal antihero of the opera: the Papageno bird hunter.
He looks like an honest guy walking around with paint spots on his clothes and a curtain rod slung over his shoulder.
Perhaps this is McBurney’s view. In a truly “enlightened” world ruled by money and power, Papagino, the fun guy who redecorates your kitchen, is truly the only person you can trust.
Star team of singers
On the soloist side, this performance is a treat from start to finish.
Leonard Freelink sings Tamino’s melodies effortlessly with youthful fervor.
Soprano Marie Ericksmoen once again shows that she is one of the most skilled bamenas of our time.
American Rainelle Krause has the necessary blend of power and acrobatics that the Queen of the Night needs to truly set off.
Dane Stephen Miling’s resonant bass voice makes Sarastro an eerily charismatic current leader.
But the most impressive is the Dutchman Thomas Ullmanns, who managed to create the Papageno for our time, even with a lot of original texts (in German!).
Oliemans is simply a brilliant singer-actor with impeccable comedic timing. But in fact it has to be so for production of the “magic flute” to hit the mark.
Conductor Evind Golberg Jensen leads the choir and orchestra with a steady hand, though I experienced some of his very boisterous pace, especially in the first act.
McBurney’s “The Magic Flute” had its premiere at the English National Opera already in 2013, and was subsequently played on several tours in both London and Aix-de-Provence. In the spring, it will be staged at The Met.
It is therefore not surprising that opera director Evind Golberg Jensen wanted to present the production at Grieghallen.
For McBurney, this piece of art actually managed to give “The Magic Flute” a modern term without sacrificing much of its charm and simple joys.
At the same time, it shows that little is more charming than opera when everything clicks.
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