No bag of tricks, but a magic flute that plays the notes of the soul
Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte" – The Magic Flute – is the kind of opera that has something for everybody: spoken theater with elements of slapstick and high drama; folk music with catchy tunes; opera seria with accompanied recitatives and breathtaking coloraturas; opera buffa with spirited ensembles. A message that passes Enlightenment, Freemasonry, Humanism and other noble intellectual currents through the mixer of popular entertainment. A dash of the Egyptomania sweeping Europe in the late 18th century. And, to top everything off, cute children and animals. With Mozart's music holding it all together, it's no wonder that the work is still one of the most popular operas in the world today.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who arguably heads the list of Mozart conductors in our time, is the star of this production by Martin Kušej that puts the spotlight on the orchestra and singers. The Zurich Opera Orchestra plays with a relaxed, almost carefree spirit that lets the instrumentalists savor the freedom of flexible tempos and striking accents. With his encyclopedic knowledge of Mozart interpretation, Harnoncourt reaches into the score to carve out previously unknown emotions from a few unspectacular measures of music, or permits himself such daring innovations as the pianissimo rendering of the triumphal chorus following the successful trials of Pamina and Tamino – a triumph to be enjoyed with caution...
The ensemble is clearly eager to satisfy the demands of its conductor. Christoph Strehl's Tamino glows with youthful energy and provides a pitch-perfect counterpart to Julia Kleiter's radiant, self-assured Pamina. The same can be said of the young Ruben Drole as Papageno, a brilliant new discovery, and his lively Papagena, Eva Liebau. Elena Mosuc's regal Queen of the Night brings off her coloraturas with grace and ease. And Matti Salminen's Sarastro is as profound and sonorous as ever.
Martin Kušej's staging is rich in thought-provoking, imaginative details such as the toy snakes with which Tamino and several other ophidiophobes grapple at the beginning of the opera, and the depiction of Sarastro's followers as a fencing team... The stage sets – revolving monumental walls with metal doors – evoke subterranean passages, a bunker, a hospital, a psychiatric clinic, perhaps following a global catastrophe... Labyrinthine passages that prevent Tamino and Pamina from coming together until they overcome their harrowing trials. A Magic Flute that provides a welcome alternative to the often child-like, colorful bag of tricks that other directors often feel compelled to serve their audiences.