Also available on Blu-ray
MOZART Die Zauberflöte • Roland Böer, cond; Saimir Pirgu (Tamino); Genia Kühmeier (Pamina); Alex Esposito (Papageno); Albina Shagimuratova (Queen of the Night); Günther Groissböck (Sarastro); Ailish Tynan (Papagena); Peter Bronder (Monostatos); La Scala O & Ch • OPUS ARTE OA 1066 D (DVD: 172:00); OA BD7099 D (Blu-ray: 172:00) Live: Milan 3–4/2011
This very Masonic opera pits the forces of Light—love, honesty, trust, reason, enthusiasm—against those of Darkness—lust, hatred, deception, fear, despair. William Kentridge in an interview included on this disc speaks of envisioning the original Masons in specific and the Enlightenment in general as part of a movement that brought “benign” colonialism to Africa, Asia, etc. He states that
is far less a matter of black-and-white sides when understood in this fashion, but instead of shades of gray. Fortunately, only some of this historically suspect interpretation actually finds its way into his production and set design. The result has its quirks, and some things definitely don’t work, but by and large it’s wildly creative and fun.
Multimedia has seldom been used so extensively in opera, so stylishly, or to such advantage. Kentridge essentially riffs on the idea of backlit projections as physical location, metaphor, and commentary, employing imagery drawn from turn-of-the-19th-century material. So when Tamino walks to a part of the stage, the words
Tempel der Vernugt
(Temple of Reason) are superimposed via projection; then he stands still, and the transparent gate of the stone edifice seems to pass over him. The second gate advances from the other side to silhouette itself on the first, a visual equivalent of the Prince’s compounded confusion. When Papageno’s music is first heard before his entrance, Tamino turns a projector/camera crank that throws on the back curtain a shadow image of a human who morphs briefly into a giant bird, and can pull birds out of thin air: Papageno, in other words, here depicted as something half-magical. Again, when Papageno and Monostatos cower on stage during their meeting, as each sings, the silhouetted image behind him is of the other looming over his huddled figure brandishing a weapon. I can’t praise such moments highly enough, and many others like them.
But I’m not convinced by Kentridge’s dressing up the Priest as an academician before a classroom chalkboard, showing geometric drawings—not when his discussion with Tamino is about love and virtue. Similarly, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” doesn’t lend itself under any circumstances to backlit abstract geometric lines, equations, and a black-and-white silent film of a pair of pith-helmeted explorers viewing some previously unknown savannah. True, a bad king might speak such words as Schikaneder has written, while pursuing policies more along the lines of Belgium’s morally repulsive Leopold II; but no king could lie so convincingly to such music as Mozart has written. It’s a rule of opera (with very few exceptions) that music defines a character’s emotions, and Sarastro is all about benevolent, equalizing, all-embracing love, not logic and territorial invasion. The fit simply is wrong.
The static pictures that Kentridge often creates with his characters are necessary for the fluid animated line drawings
Émile Cohl that loom over large portions of the stage. The performers’ acting is generally very good, though the singing is variable. Samir Pirgu offers a distinguished “Dies Bildnis,” but Ailish Tynan begins tremulously, with a few efforts at pitch that fail. Before the end of “Ich Vogelfanger bin ich ja” his voice settles down, revealing a thin but pleasant lyric baritone that turns harsh when pressed. Albina Shagimuratova is a lyric soprano Queen (and excels in this respect) rather than a stratospheric coloratura one, who manages the figurations of “Du wirst sie zu befreyen gehen” with slight uneasiness at the moderate speed Böer sets for her. Peter Bronder wobbles and barks his way through his part, but Genia Kühmeier delivers a beautifully refined “Ach ich fühls.” Günther Groissböck supplies a rock-solid bass and
singing for Sarastro. I do feel his two arias go by too quickly under conductor Roland Böer, and are rendered prosaic as a result. This is as nothing compared to the music in the act I quintet that first introduces us to the Three Boys, however, which suddenly accelerates with a wrenching change of tempo, and rushes to its conclusion—as though people shouldn’t enjoy it. These are only a few of the changes to the score based as we are told on René Jacobs’s interpretation. There are noodling fortepiano chords between concert pieces and secco recitative at various times, such as at the conclusion of Tamino’s aria, and an entirely new section accompanying an overlong shadow play of Monostatos terrorizing Pamina. Since none of these alterations have ever been established as more than Jacobs’s personal preferences, however intelligent the source, it amounts to defining a new tradition every bit as arbitrary and in several instances anachronistic as any 19th-century one.
The camerawork by Patrizia Carmine is excellent, working obviously to second Kentridge’s design. Subtitles are furnished in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, with audio formats in Dolby Digital and DTS surround, and a visual format of 16:9 anamorphic.
I have my reservations, and some of them are strong. But for sheer visual exuberance and insight this
trumps the rest. I only wish Kentridge the stage director with an Idea didn’t get in the way of Kentridge the imaginative artist, but there’s so much of the latter that I’m more than willing to forgive the former. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Sarastro – Günther Groissböck
Tamino – Saimir Pirgu
Queen of the Night – Albina Shagimuratova
Pamina – Genia Kühmeier
Papagena – Ailish Tynan
Papageno – Alex Esposito
Monostatos – Peter Bronder
Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra
Roland Böer, conductor
William Kentridge, stage director
Recorded live at La Teatro alla Scala, 20 March 2011
- Overview of The Magic Flute
- Illustrated synopsis
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Running time: 150 mins
No. of DVDs: 1