Following on my own advice from last night, I went to the Novaya Opera tonight to hear (but to try not to see) Mozart’s Zauberflöte. The performance was excellent, from a musical perspective, with a very good ensemble cast, orchestra, and chorus all under the direction of Anatoly Gus. I spotted last night’s conductor from the Stanislavsky in the audience – maybe learning a thing or two – oddly still dressed in the same outfit he wore in the pit last night.
But, indeed, I should have kept my eyes closed. Zauberflöte is a magical fantasy opera, and so there is no correct staging, and many possibilities exist. Since there is no such thing as a realistic staging, I entered the theater figuring it could not be so bad.
However, in this case, the stage director was probably on drugs. He did actually attempt to stage this opera, so I suppose if I ignored what things looked like then the plot was preserved and presented. And there seemed to be some concept to this staging (for example, the white set changed to black and other colors were inverted for the second act), but I cannot say that in my sober and non-drug induced state that I could figure out what the director meant. Most of the costumes seem to have been based on the cartoon figures in Yellow Submarine, the Beatles’ LSD-inspired movie, but I could find no obvious correlation between characters in that movie and characters dressed the same way in this opera, so I assume the director had not thought that bit through. Additionally, Sarastro appeared (to me at least) to be a caricature of Stalin, although again it was not obvious why or what connection this had to the plot. There were certainly Soviet references mixed in, though: the Queen of the night carried a sickle (and her daughter Pamina had a sickle embedded in her head for no apparent reason), whereas Sarastro carried a hammer (as did his men, eventually). The two Armored Men were statues, one of which bore a resemblance to Lenin (and I probably just missed who the other one was supposed to be).
As I said, I am not sure what any of this had to do with the opera. Unlike German Regietheater, which makes no attempt to portray the action, this production actually followed along with the plot. But the staging, and more particularly the costumes, seem to have resulted from a drug-induced vision inspired by the Beatles.