Mozart, Die Zauberflöte

My first opera since moving to Salzburg… had to be Mozart, I suppose.  The Salzburger Landestheater has brought out a new production of Zauberflöte this year.

There may not be a right way to stage this opera.  I’m sure a German could think of a wrong way, but the German director in this case decided to actually stage it properly (maybe because he did not train in Germany).  The curtain opened with someone representing the impressario Emanuel Schikaneder (and in this case the librettist) on stage with an oversized suitcase, out of which emerged the evening’s characters.  This production would clearly bridge fantasy and reality.  Then the Schikaneder shed his cloak to reveal himself as Papageno… just as the real-life Schikaneder sang Papageno at the opera’s premiere in 1791.

For Tamino and Papageno, and Pamina and Papagena, in addition to the singers, they were also portrayed by marionettes.  Rather than just mimicking the singers, the marionettes became alter-egos, adding an extra layer of emotion, but also allowing these characters to talk to themselves and explore the their innermost psychologies.  The ploy added charm, helping to make these characterizations fuller, but also underscoring the fantasy/reality dichotomy.

The staging was otherwise simple and straightforward.  Costumes, though mixing periods, were generally neutral and blended well – except for Tamino’s.  Why Tamino (and therefore also his marionette) wore a Yale University sweatshirt was entirely unclear.

At the end of the opera, Papageno put his cloak back on and became Schikaneder again, ushering all the characters and props back into his suitcase.  Except Tamino and Pamina decided to go their own way without their puppets.  He gave them a hug and a blessing, and then climbed with his own puppet into his own suitcase as the curtain fell.

The star of the evening was the Landestheater’s terrific new 28-year-old Lithuanian music director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.  Her unusual conducting style looked a little like she was mimicking the marionettes: she held her arms outstretched in front of her and upwards, while making oversized but clear motions.  Everyone could follow her perfectly.  She doubles as Gustavo Dudamel’s assistant in Los Angeles – but on first sight seems like she has more of knack for musical clarity than her overrated boss.

The cast was fine – voices were as big as they needed to be in this relatively small theater and with a chamber orchestra in the pit.


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