Saturday, March 20, 2021

I'm a 'llegory man

It's not often I praise a radically updated production of a traditional opera.  It is also not often that I find myself sobbing and laughing at the same time while watching an opera. Saturday evening I experienced the convergence of these two unlikely events in the form of a production of Die Zauberflöte from the Macerata Opera Festival in Italy--hence the title Il Flauto Magico and the Italian names for all the characters.  As with many productions I write about recently, this was courtesy of the amazing site

Tamino and Papageno
Updated productions.  Heavy sigh.  Far too often they fail to achieve the goal that is usually stated, of making relationships and social roles more clear.  Very often they distract with their attention--or more likely inattention--to historical detail.  Much as I appreciate Jackie O style costumes for women, I've seen enough productions of Aida and Norma to understand the role relationships without the aid of a pillbox hat.  I don't need to see Marriage of Figaro on a tennis court, to quote an opera director I once interviewed.

But.  This.  Was.  Brilliant.  I was resistant at first but the production won me over.  The setting appears to be the scene of an historic site that is being sacrificed to modern business needs.  There is a camp of protesters and homeless people, and a chorus of people in all walks of life, from church leaders of many different faiths to business men to anything you can imagine.  The three doors of the Temple of Wisdom have symbols representing finance (a Euro symbol), commerce (an Apple logo), and the church (wait for it........yes, a cross!).  Not surprisingly, the door where Tamino gains entry is the door of commerce.  At points in the production the finance set piece turns around to reveal missiles--big surprise--and the church set piece reveals a huge statue of the Virgin.  Comment on that could take up another entire post, so I'll refrain.  At the very climax, the commerce (Apple logo) set piece turns around to reveal a tree.  During the trial scene, Pamina plucks an apple from the tree to share with Tamino.  Some might say heavy handed, but we live in a heavy-handed age.  (It is also worth noting that Papageno's false attempt at suicide also involves that tree.)

Papageno and Pamina

I could write about the many details that made this production brilliant, but the best way to summarize it is this:  It made me think about Die Zauberflöte, which I know like the back of my hand (have you seen the name of this blog?), in a new way.  That is indeed an accomplishment.

The singing.  Usually I lead off with the singing, but the fact that I haven't done so here is no slight to the singing I heard in this production. I shall list all the credits below and refer to each singer by character name here.  First, Tamino.  One of the most difficult tenor roles ever.  F@#$#^%$ Parsifal.  This is hard work!  Giovanni Sala was very pleasing vocally and quite equal to the unusual acting demands of the avant-garde setting.  I hope I will hear him again.  Pamina was pleasingly sung by Valentina Mastrangelo. I can't say I quite liked all the things the director asked her to do, but she was certainly a good actress.  And in all fairness, this was not a simpering Pamina who leaves one wondering just what is wrong with the girl.  Sarastro was quite commandingly sung and acted by Antonio di Matteo, attired in suit and tie like a televangelist.  (Yes, there was a suited televangelist element among the faith leaders I mention above.)  The Queen of the Night was sung very well by Tetiana Zhuravel, but I would like to have seen more madness.  (Kenneth Branagh, your movie has spoiled me for all other Queens of the Night!)  

The three gates at the Temple of Wisdom

Quibbles?  Very few once I understood what was going on.  (Program notes?  I don't need no stinkin' program notes!)  One or two vocal flaws, but this was regional/festival/young artist opera, not Covent Garden. One or two directorial choices I might want to discuss.  Nothing really worth talking about.  

In summary, I highly recommend seeking this video on if you want beautiful singing and a production that makes you think.

Following is a cast/credit list directly from the web site:

Tamino:  Giovanni Sala  

Papageno:  Guido Loconsolo

The Three Ladies:  Lucrezia Drei, Eleonora Cilli, Adriana Di Paola

Astrifiammante:  Tetiana Zhuravel

Monostato:  Manuel Pierattelli

Pamina:  Valentina Mastrangelo

The Three Geniuses:  Ilenia Silvestrelli, Caterina Piergiacomi, Emanuele Saltari

Oratore:  Marcell Bakonyi

Sarastro:  Antonio Di Matteo

Papagena:  Paola Leoci

Sacerdote / Armigero:  Marco Miglietta

Armigero:  Seung Pil Choi

Chorus:  Coro Lirico Marchigiano “V. Bellini”

Orchestra:  Orchestra regionale delle Marche

Text Fedele d’Amico (Translation):  Graham Vick, Stefano Simone Pintor (Dialogues)

Conductor:  Daniel Cohen

Director:  Graham Vick

Set Designer:  Stuart Nunn

Costume Designer:  Stuart Nunn

Lighting Designer:  Giuseppe di Iorio

Movement Director:  Ron Howell


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