Sunday, April 17, 2016

Revenge = Bad; Love = Good

As if I weren't glued firmly enough to my computer keyboard, I have found a totally new online obsession: The Opera Platform. This is a site where one can watch video of operas performed at many European opera houses, similar to the Met On Demand service offered by the Metropolitan Opera--except The Opera Platform offers more than one venue, and it's free. It has just started offering real-time live streaming performances, to be made available on demand later, but I haven't been able to catch one yet.

Atle Antonsen as Papageno
Silvia Moi as Papagena
Photo:  Erik Berg, Den Norske Opera
There are some operatic treasures on offer at the landing page--Parsifal from Vienna, Aida from Turin, etc.--but by poking around I found even more treasures. For instance, had I not clicked on an article about Queen of the Night costumes from various productions, I would have totally missed the video of Den Norske Opera's recent re-imagining of our old favorite, Die Zauberflöte. (It now appears on the landing page list.)

I have railed in the past against updating or "re-imagining" operas, for several quite good reasons. Perhaps I'm softening. Or maybe I am finally seeing some productions where it works better than I expect it to. In this case, we have a Star Wars-like set-up, and Tamino crash-lands his space ship on an exotic, unknown planet that curiously has just the right atmosphere for humans to sing and, well,  you know, live. From there the story, with libretto and dialogue in Norwegian, keeps close to what we know. In fact, the re-imagined story and stage direction by Alexander Mørk-Eidsen brought out some points worth considering in any production. For instance, Tamino's apparent about-face in attitude upon entering Sarastro's temple is explained by making the suggestion he is bewitched by the Queen and her Ladies when given the charge to rescue Pamina. All in all, I found the production charming.

Marius Roth Christensen
Photo: Erik Berg, Den Norske Opera
Papageno is the only character who breaks the fourth-wall barrier by communicating directly with the audience. His character became very much like the patter baritone in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, and in fact he was played by the popular Norwegian comic actor Atle Antonsen. Mr. Antonsen acquitted himself vocally very well, and was quite the convincing Papageno--a child in a man's body, all heart but very little reason, and yet he might be the wisest of the bunch in the end. In this production Papageno is hairy enough to suggest Chewbacca, while still keeping the appearance and persona of a television presenter.

Tamino is the handsome, brave, true young lad we require. This Tamino was performed by Marius Roth Christensen, a former Norwegian rock star who has been singing opera successfully for about ten years. Although Wikipedia gives his age as 43, he can play the 20-something prince convincingly if the camera man is careful with his close-ups. We certainly did enjoy his singing--sweet and beautiful throughout, with very few signs of strain, even in Tamino's most difficult passages--and we believed in his love for the beautiful Pamina.

The Queen really is atop Pamina's little hut,
one of many places she is suspended
during that scene

Eir Inderhaug as Queen of the Night
Mari Eriksmoen as Pamina
Photo:  Erik Berg, Den Norske Opera
The more I think about the role of Pamina, the more I think there's just something wrong with that girl. She falls in love with the idea of a man, never having met him, based solely on the news that he found her picture (or hologram in this case) attractive. In Act II she is ready to end her life because Tamino keeps silent toward her as part of a trial. And she knows he's undergoing trials. Does she have a screw loose or is she just that self absorbed? This Pamina was sung by the beautiful young soprano Mari Eriksmoen. Her singing was a treat--free and clear throughout--and she acted the somewhat ridiculous role of Pamina gracefully.

The Queen of the Night was sung quite well by Eir Inderhaug. Technically spot on, with every note solid, accurate, and beautiful. She was also convincingly angry. Or mad, rather. One begins to see a pattern here. The Queen is surrounded by the oddest group of Ladies I have ever seen--they seem to be half amphibian, half nymphomaniac. But they're all good singers, and we enjoyed their scenes. Poor Monostatos was sung and acted quite well by Nils Harald Sødal, but I wouldn't wish that costume on my worst enemy--believe me, it's better imagined than described. And we can't forget the sonorous tones of Sarastro, sung by Henning von Schulman.

I must admit as Act II progressed I was growing more and more uncomfortable with some of the narrative--the emphasis on man's superiority over woman, how a woman needs a man to guide her, the disdain for any trait not considered manly in that worldview. It all built up to a climax at the end of the quintet in the Act II finale, when the Queen, the Ladies, and Monostatos are caught trying to sneak into the temple to kidnap Pamina. Just as it looks like we'll see a brawl that would not be unusual on a rugby pitch, Papageno and Papagena interrupt to remind us of the true message of the story: hate and revenge are bad things, and love and forgiveness are good. Take away what remains of the sexist message of the temple and the trials, and I'm good with that.

Photo:  Erik Berg, Den Norske Opera

No comments: