Posts Tagged ‘Schikaneder’

A Magic Flute, C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, at the Barbican, March 2011

25 March, 2011

Singing in German, speaking in French with the occasional bit of German or English thrown in, and surtitles in English that sometimes, but not always, kept the same pace as the performers — that was what was on offer and I was rather glad when it was over. The indefinite article says this isn’t the Mozart/Schikaneder opera, though it’s certainly based on it. Essentially this is a pared down version of Mozart, played on the piano, with singers who would not hold their own with an orchestra, and sometimes had difficulty filling the Barbican concert hall. Yes, the bamboo sticks are a clever production idea in this minimalist staging by Peter Brook, and the two non-singing performers, William Nadylam and Abdou Ouologuem had great stage presence. They themselves could have filled the ninety minutes, but as a musical performance this left much to be desired.

Abdou Ouologuem with the flute, photos by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Some people evidently enjoyed it immensely and when I asked a friend why he thought it was so good, he said the acting was wonderful, and much better than you get in the opera house. Was it? I go regularly to the opera, and I think the acting these days is often very good indeed. To take one case, the best actor in this production was arguably Virgile Frannais as Papageno, but I’ve seen Papagenos at the Royal Opera and the English National Opera who could knock his performance into a cocked hat.

The Queen of the Night should be a dramatically threatening role, but here she just seemed to be a widow who hates Sarastro because he wears the sun disc that her husband donated to the initiates. A lot of depth seemed to be missing, but perhaps this appeals to those who don’t much like opera? I don’t know, and I don’t quite know what the purpose is. If this were a student performance it would get high plaudits for an imaginative production with almost no props and no orchestra, but then it wouldn’t be playing at the Barbican.

As it is, I shall be going to University College London to see a student performance of Die drei Pintos, an opera by Weber, completed by Mahler, and I’m expecting something much better than this.

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2011

2 February, 2011

Mozart’s Magic Flute can be both magical and portentous, and this production by David McVicar gives us both. As the overture starts, a smartly dressed young man in eighteenth century costume climbs over the Stalls Circle and onto the front of the stage. This is Tamino, whose entrance is followed by dark figures entering the auditorium at all levels, from Stalls to Amphi, carrying lights.

Royal Opera House photos by Mike Hoban

When the curtain opens a huge serpent appears on stage, which Christopher Maltman, as a very engaging Papageno, later claims to have killed. His body language confirms that the ladies of the night are right to gag him for his lies, and his attitudes provide an excellent contrast to the noble Tamino, beautifully sung by Joseph Kaiser.

Maltman as Papageno

This was a super cast, with Kate Royal as a lovely Pamina in her princess-like dress, made dowdy by her captivity, while Anna Devin was a captivatingly sexy Papagena in her short, tight skirts and bright colours. Franz-Josef Selig was a commanding Sarastro, and Jessica Pratt a fierce queen of the night, if somewhat harsh of tone in Act I. The German diction was excellent from most of the singers; Christopher Maltman was particularly good in his delivery, as was  Donald Maxwell as Second Priest — I heard every word with clarity.

The designs by John Macfarlane work very well, giving the three boys a scruffy appearance with dirty legs and old-fashioned shorts and jumpers, and showing splashes of bird droppings on the back of Papageno’s cheap suit. The death-like armour and cloaks for the two men who come on in Act 2 give an appearance of great power as they sing, “Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden/ Wird rein durch Feuer, Wasser, Luft und Erden/. . .” (He who walks this path heavy with cares, will be purified by fire, water, air and earth . . .). “Mich schreckt kein Tod . . .” (Death doesn’t frighten me) responds Tamino, and we are engaged by his strength of purpose in seeking enlightenment, unlike the happy Papageno who merely wants a wife and family.

Royal and Selig as Pamina and Sarastro

Incidentally, the Papageno in 1791 at the first performance in Vienna was the librettist, Schikaneder. He and Mozart were both freemasons, which at the time had slightly different connotations from what it has today. This was the age of Enlightenment when reason was seen as an ideal that should underlie legitimacy and authority, embodied here by Sarastro, and opposed by the Queen of the Night.


It was a treat to have Colin Davis in the pit, giving the singers his full support, and in this dress rehearsal helping the boys to keep on track at one point.

Further performances are scheduled until February 24, with David Syrus conducting the final two — for more details click here.