I can always count on Moscow’s Pokrovsky Chamber Opera for intelligent and charming productions, at least as long as they keep trotting out ones directed by the late great Boris Pokrovsky. So when I saw a 2004 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on their schedule, I figured I should snag a ticket for tonight just to see what the genius Pokrovsky could make of it (when he was 92 years old!). The Chamber Opera did not let me down.
Considering the size of the theater, Pokrovsky scaled the production down to the minimum needed to produce a concept. He used very little in the way of sets – mostly geometric figures representing the heavens – and lighting, and having the cast spill off the stage and down the center aisle. The disembodied chorus sang from the rafters above and behind the audience.
During the overture, the male and female leads – soon to be transformed into Tamino and Pamina – came on stage as children reading a picture book. As they flipped through the pages for a preview of the story to come, they conjured up the other performers on stage. Once the cast had assembled, the fairy tale could begin. There really is no “right” way to stage this opera (although there are plenty of wrong ways). Within the limitations of a chamber opera theater, Pokrovsky kept this production light-hearted and emphasized the comic aspects. He simplified the action, having members of the cast double up on roles (for example: the Armored Men were also Priests), without changing the plot. The cast – essentially just the house’s ensemble – acted their roles and drew the audience into the story. The audience itself had dozens of little kids attending, all of whom looked absolutely enraptured by what they experienced. They needed nothing fancy – just pure unadulterated fun.
Oleg Byeluntsov kept the orchestra playing along in the same character, and I could almost hear the smiles on the musicians’ faces as they performed a light and spirited accompaniment. Of the cast, Maksim Palin had an absolutely booming voice Sarastro, but radiated warmth. Yuliya Moiseyeva, Borislav Molchanov, Yekaterina Fyerzba, and Sergei Ostroumov mastered their singing and acting as Pamina, Tamino, the Queen of the Night, and Monostatos. And someone named Chvetkov (no first name provided) deserves special kudos as Papageno – an understudy and last-minute substitution for the two ensemble members who have it in their repertory but who must have come down sick in our rapidly-winterizing weather. A little shaky with his lines at first, his nerves settled in and he came into his role to soon charm the audience.
The one complaint I initially had came from the outrageous Russian accents everyone in the cast had, since it seemed odd not to have a speech coach. These accents made the dialogues sound especially silly. However, as the night went on, not only did I become accustomed to these accents, but I ultimately decided that they actually added extra charm to the whole evening. This was a fantasy production, after all. It was fantastic in other ways as well.