Saturday, September 26, 2020

Die Wahrheit! Die Wahrheit wär sie auch Verbrechen!

 We shall speak the truth, even if that be also a crime.

Noble words one doesn't hear much in our day. But Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a work about ideals, and often about how noble efforts conflict with earthy pleasures.  I was happy to view a recent Royal Opera House YouTube post (dated June 25, 2020) of a 2017 Flute performance.  

No one who knows me or who has been reading this blog for very long can doubt my love for Mozart and his sublime operas.  I have sung and studied more Mozart roles than any other, and indeed, Tamino was the first full role I ever sang.  

This was a 2017 revival of a David McVicar production, under the direction of Thomas Guthrie.  I'll start with some of the visual elements I liked.  I found it a great relief to have the chorus of priests dressed in 18th century costume instead of the muu-muus one often sees them wearing.  Having said that, Sarastro must guard against looking too much like Pangloss.  In this production Papagena (Christina Gansch) looked more like a late 1960s glamor-puss cougar than a grandmother.  One could be forgiven for expecting her to sing "Ladies Who Lunch" at the drop of a fur-brimmed hat (does anyone still wear a hat?), but when she revealed herself, she became a current-day young woman--very nice.  Tamino's trials by fire and water--rather than having Tamino and Pamina trudge through lame set pieces intended to represent flame and water, in this case they remained in one position while dancers and supernumeraries behind them, aided by skillful lighting, represented flames and waves of water.  A good solution to a scene requirement that is often rather awkward.

Often I start of with glowing descriptions of singers who left me charmed and enraptured, and I can't say I was disappointed by any of the singing.  (Well, perhaps in one case, but we'll get to that later.)  Tamino was sung by Mauro Peter, a tenor I did not know.  I hope to hear more of him as this young man's career progresses.  His singing was 100% secure, and he handled this traditionally stoic park & bark role admirably.  Pamina was quite beautifully sung by Siobhan Stagg, and young Australian soprano who has achieved great acclaim throughout Europe.  Reviews at the time mentioned her absolute understanding and commitment to the text and the strength she gave Pamina.  And let's face it--Pamina has her issues.  Sarastro was quite nobly sung by Finnish bass Mika Kares, another young singer with an impressive list of accomplishments and a promising future.  Sabine Devieilhe sang the Queen, and vocally was completely present and beautiful. One hoped for a little more madness during her vengeance aria, but in her introductory aria there were girlish elements I had never seen before, as she spins her web to convince Tamino she is in the right.  

The character tenor is an unusual breed.  Usually sought after for his acting, in some cases his singing doesn't matter. Think of Monostatos, Pedrillo, Franz in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The singing of this Monostatos must not have mattered at all.  Yes, the man can act, and yes he looked menacing, especially in his Nosferatu-like costume and makeup, but I dreaded every time he opened his mouth. The world is full of accomplished character tenors who can sing much more beautifully than Peter Bronder--were none of them available?

As expected, the chorus and orchestra of ROH Covent Garden were excellent. Conductor Julia Jones gave a spritely, nuanced, and compelling performance.

I would recommend this YouTube video.  It's beautiful, and beauty is what it's all about for me.

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