MOZART Die Zauberflöte (Carydis)
This production from last year’s Salzburg Festival has much charm but it is fundamentally so wrong-headed that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps influenced by Adrian Noble’s Hänsel und Gretel (EuroArts, 2/17), which was set in a Victorian nursery, Lydia Steier places the action in a middle-class household in Vienna before the First World War. During the Overture the family is at table, while tradesmen deliver goods downstairs. Father reads something disturbing in his newspaper – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand? – and rushes out. Mother has a tantrum. Only Grandfather remains calm, and after the children have said their bedtime prayers he begins to read them the story of the Magic Flute, chapter by chapter. The children become the Three Boys of the opera, the maids are the Three Ladies; Mother is the Queen of the Night, the butcher’s boy is Papageno and the boy delivering the coal is Monostatos.
Most of Schikaneder’s dialogue is replaced by the Grandfather’s narration, engagingly read by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who sometimes – not too often – speaks over the music. The boys participate in the action, of course, when not listening to the story. Tamino is dressed as a wooden toy soldier, with apple-red cheeks. The Queen, mysteriously, is in bridal white. The temple is peopled by grotesques: acrobats, jugglers, men on stilts. Pamina is a doll in a rah-rah skirt. Sarastro, in topper and striped trousers, is described as a magician but could be the Animal Trainer from Berg’s Lulu. And when the Speaker emerges for the beginning of Tamino’s journey towards enlightenment we see a grinning jackanapes chomping on a cigar.
That is enough to make you grit your teeth, though I suppose some might find it entertaining. It’s the end that really takes the biscuit. The final trial, by fire and water, consists of Tamino and Pamina watching footage of First World War carnage, after which Monostatos and the Three Ladies are shot on the orders of Sarastro; the Queen too, perhaps, but the camera cuts away at the crucial moment. You can forget the opera’s crucial message of the triumph of light over darkness. Not surprisingly, the three boys are deeply distressed.
There hardly seems any point in commenting on the singing and playing. Constantinos Carydis pulls the tempos around: often too fast and too finicky, but the Vienna Philharmonic are with him all the way. It’s ironic that despite using the New Mozart Edition he adds piano, harpsichord and organ. One of his best moments is the pause before the aching postlude to Christiane Karg’s beautiful ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’. For a baritone, Matthias Goerne copes better than you might expect with Sarastro’s bottom notes. The three boys act and sing wonderfully well. When Papageno discovers Pamina he is clutching what looks like an enormous turkey: an all too apt symbol, unfortunately, of this misconceived farrago.