lunes, mayo 06, 2013

“The Magic Flute”, a paradigm of contradiction

            "Die Zauberflöte" ("The Magic Flute") is perhaps the best-loved opera by Mozart and has been offered innumerable times in recent decades. I have consequently written often about it, although I wasn´t in BA when Renán produced it at the Colón two years ago. And, as ineluctably has to happen considering its silly libretto by Schikaneder, its triumph comes from the music, so fresh , warm and charming (when it isn´t Masonic...) that most people tend to disregard that it is an unequalled paradigm of contradictions. In fact, it is one of the poorest and most ridiculous libretti in the whole repertoire (the conductor on this occasion, Hernán Schvartzman, is curiously of quite the opposite view!).

            Just a few eminent contradictions: Sarastro is presumably the good chap but has the hideous Monostatos as his servant; and the high priest of Isis and Osiris spews out completely misogynistic and racist views in the name of Masonic love to all...The Queen of Night is supposed to be evil but both the three Ladies and the Three Genii are her emissaries and are those that give Tamino and  Papageno respectively "the magic flute" that will enable him to pass the trials of fire and water and become an initiate in Sarastro´s temple, and the little bells (Glockenspiel) that will bring  Papagena to the bird catcher. Add to it intents of murder and suicide and the whole thing is preposterous to say the least. But Papageno, the "Natur Mensch", "the man of nature" that captures birds for the Queen (Schikaneder´s role), represents Mozart´s marvelous "tour de force" of creating the most lovable musical portrait. Tamino is steadfast and noble, and Pamina veers between ecstasy and tragedy. The enemies (the Queen and Sarastro) are completely unilateral in their feelings. And the priests are a solemn bore, sad propaganda for the Viennese Masonry of that time.

             In frequent adaptations (condensed) this Singspiel is put on (even with puppets) as a children´s opera, but it isn´t. Its funny moments need a very exact touch to work, and the best way to approach it is to stress the fairy tale aspects (the Flute aria attracting the animals, the Genii, Papageno), whilst the Masonic moments must –against some of its text- be given dignity. In truth, Mozart´s other Singspiel is much better contrived: the rescue opera "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" ("The Abduction from the seraglio") works well.

            This year Juventus Lyrica has a short and hackneyed programme: just "The Magic Flute", "The Barber of Seville" and "La Boheme". I was told that there are money troubles and thus they go for surefire hits. I also blame the public that seems unable to discriminate and always wants to see the same things; that lack of curiosity kills culture by limiting opera to a dozen choices out of thousands.

            This "Magic Flute" will be remembered musically for two able interpreters: Santiago Bürgi´s Tamino was sung with quality of timbre and fine line, and a new name, Laura Pisani, was notably adept as the Queen, for she solved most intricacies and gave character to the part. I will also remember it for the weakest Papageno in my experience. Gabriel Carasso, also new, has practically no voice and his interpretation was primitive. It´s a sad thing that the worst minute of his Papageno was applauded mightily (Papageno as a drunkard). Sonia Stelman, an excellent Zerlina and Despina, lacks the creaminess and volume a Pamina requires, although she is very musical. Oreste Chlopecki is low on presence and limited in vocal range as Sarastro. The Ladies were good and mutually in tune: Sabrina Cirera, Mariana Carnovali and Verónica Canaves. Patricio Oliveira, who was a first-rate Pedrillo in "Abduction...", wildly exaggerated his Monostatos and disregarded the musical accuracy Mozart always needs. Maximiliano Michailovsky was correct as the Orator ("Sprecher"); he also sang with Cristian Taleb the Men in Arms. Very nice the Genii: Luciana Piovan, Rebeca Nomberto and Julieta Cao. Cintia Verna, replacing Laura Penchi as Papagena, sang shrilly.

            Schvartzman, an Argentine working at The Hague, this year didn´t mix artists from that Dutch city´s Royal Conservatory with compatriots active here (as he did in Mozart/Da Ponte operas in past seasons); this season the competent 38-piece orchestra was almost totally made up of Argentines. The conductor opted for fast tempi kept with a good pulse generally; there were some mistakes, and I deeply disliked the disfiguring of the second Papageno song, where the cunning Mozart variation of each couplet was utterly ruined by making the orchestra "play drunk". The clean-sounding Chorus (also 38) was prepared by Hernán Sánchez Arteaga.

            Last year I was impressed by María Jaunarena´s production of Britten´s "The Turn of the Screw". I liked this "Magic Flute" a good deal less. She also did the costume designs. Her stage and lighting designer was Gonzalo Córdova. No less than eight people handled the excessive sound effects that often masked Mozart´s music. There was good and bad in this production. A few instances. Good: the simple but effective structure that Tamino and Pamina thread during the trials of fire and water; the rapport between the artists; the costumes of the Ladies and the Queen. Bad: the snake shouldn´t reach Tamino; the bicycles of the Genii; to have the Queen of Night appear in a blaze of light; the whole concept of Papageno.  I´ve seen worse and I´ve seen much better.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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