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Seen and Heard Opera Review

Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 16th July 2004 (H-T W)
 
 
Each new production at Glyndebourne Festival Opera usually holds some kind of surprise in store; but it is in the nature of a surprise that it will not necessarily work out. "Die Zauberflöte" has always played an important part in Glyndebourne´s history beginning with its first production in 1935 by Carl Ebert and conducted by Fritz Busch, the famous artistic founders of this then still dubious enterprise John Christie provided at his manor in the East Sussex downs. Four further new productions followed, of which I remember the last three vividly – by far the most magical having been the production by Franco Enriquez - and designed by Emanuele Luzatti - in 1963 (and which has been revived four times), and the John Cox/David Hockney production in 1978, which did not make any great impact. The last new production by Peter Sellars (1990) created a scandal by transferring the action on to the high ways of California, but with hindsight it proved to be a fascinating interpretation. Thirteen years have passed since its only revival in 1991 and it seemed right to open the 70th anniversary with a new "Zauberflöte".


And what a s
urprise – Glyndebourne confronted its audience with an entirely new concept: "Die Zauberflöte – The Musical" directed by Adrian Noble.Did it work? Well, for those, who love musicals I am sure it did. But for those who believe in Mozart’s genius it must have been a frustrating, uneven and mainly boring experience. The spirit was missing and so were stage personalities, with the exception of an overpowering Papageno (Jonathan Lemalu) and the three ladies (Tatiana Monogarova, Julianne de Villiers and Romina Basso) - as long as they sang. The moment they were engaged in over long and silly dialogues, their German diction was just awful.


Anthony Ward created an ideal and simple setting: colourful abstract prospects and black flats moving diagonally across the stage made for a great variety of spaces. His costumes were with one or two exceptions fine and even the serpent in the first scene was impressive. The three boys (Leo Baker, Jake Alden-Falconer and Milo Harries) possessed beautifully light voices and were given charming entrances, be it hanging on balloons, driving a three-seater bicycle around the stage or flying on it across it. But the huge tamed animals – as funny as they were – made a mockery out of Tamino’s great aria "Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton…", especially as this highly talented, but not yet fully grown Tamino (Pavol Breslik), entirely disappeared under the wings of a penguin. This aria was a complete write-off taken over by animals. Similar things happened after the interval. The second act started with some obscure, thin and hardly audible baroque music, while the audience were still talking. During the `March of the priests´ only Sarastro (Peter Rose), the Speaker (Gerd Grochowski) and the first and second priests (Michael Druiett and Alan Oke) were on stage lighting candles, while all the other priests took position in the stalls. Sarastro’s persuasion to accept Tamino into their brotherhood was overproduced and had laughter on its side. Later on, while Papageno and Tamino are left alone in silence, Tamino played his flute ex tempore for quite some time – a melody, which could have been by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but certainly not by Mozart. Papageno’s famous aria "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen…." consists of three strophes; after the second, Papageno stopped and, sitting on the floor towards the pit, asked the conductor, in English if he could sing one further strophe. The conductor answered him back that he had to consult the orchestra first, which, of course, it was not too happy about, but finally agreed – utter rubbish.


This entire production, more or less directed underneath the proscenium arch, mirrored the playbill of the world premiere. There it says on top: `Die Zauberflöte. A grand opera in two acts, by Emanuel Schickaneder.’ Mozart is only mentioned in small print underneath the cast. The question of how much dialogue to use has been asked countless times. I have to admit that before going into journalism I had been a staff producer with various big opera companies and had been in charge of four completely different versions of "The Magic Flute", of which one was conducted by the legendary Klaus Tennstedt. We always agreed that the dialogue plays an important part in this fairy tale journey from darkness to light, but only as long as it does not compromise the music and its message of the triumph of humanity. Tennstedt never compromised  - not even for Glyndebourne, where he should have conducted the Peter Hall production of "Don Giovanni", (in the end, they disagreed about the happy ending which Hall wanted to use.) Listening to Tennstedt's interpretation of "Die Zauberflöte" made one’s flesh creep. This did not happen at all during this production's mixture of music and overstretched, as well as overproduced, dialogue.


One of the reasons may have been the uneven casting. With the exception of Papagena (Claire Ormshaw) neither the Queen of the Night (Cornelia Götz), who had been forced into far too many different characterisations instead of symbolising just evil, nor Pamina (Lisa Milne), who seemed to have slight difficulties with her part, or Monostratos (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke), a hectic and weak `moor´, nor even Sarastro, who fought with constant intonation difficulties and embodied none of the necessary authority, possessed any persuasion.


The main reason for the `musical´ character of this ill-fated "Magic Flute" rested with music director Vladimir Jurowski, conducting his first ever Mozart opera, and his way of dealing with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The question remains: did he deliberately compromise to keep in tune with the production team or is he artistically convinced of his slow and totally uninspiring interpretation? Using a period orchestra must necessarily mean faster tempi to create tension, and a refusal to slow down, as the possibility of developing tension by using intense vibrato in the string section, never existed. Jurowski seemed to know the score inside out, at least as far as I could follow from his conducting, but why did he totally overstep Mozart’s tempo markings? He followed none of the alla breve instructions; instead, he conducted the overture too slowly and without any esprit and fire – and that never really changed.  It was Fritz Busch at Glyndebourne who showed us that it is possible to play the right Mozart tempi with a conventional modern orchestra at a time when nobody thought of trying to recreate the original sound. Now, Jurowski makes the point that one can play extremely slowly even with an historically orientated orchestra; never mind that it does not make sense, sounds dreadful, sometimes like a badly oiled old door, and produces neither breath nor tension. The duet "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen....", marked andantino, which means slightly faster than andante, felt like the result of a sleeping pill. The same counted for "In diesen hei´gen Hallen…", marked larghetto and not largo. Only in Monostrato´s aria "Alles fühlt der Liebe Leiden....", which is marked allegro in 2/4, did he rightly speed up, but to the surprise of the tenor. Further, why so many ritardandi which created an unnecessary, irregular blood pressure and stopped the flow of the music.  This opera is not a spiritless and dull broadsheet to which Jurowski degraded it despite many fine details; it is Mozart’s ever-lasting musical testament full of joy, life and dignity.


On the 6th, 7th and 8th of January 1989 Roger Norrington presented "The Mozart Experience" in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall culminating in a semi-staged performance of "Die Zauberflöte". Taking all the tempi markings seriously, including all alla breve settings – meaning that 4/4 becomes 2/4 – and using young voices, the result had been overwhelming and breathtaking. I knew then how this work should be brought to life – three of my happiest hours ever. It is only sad that in Glyndebourne, of all places, the highly intelligent and versatile current music director, an otherwise excellent musician, could make such a misjudgement. Maybe the time has come to put Mozart aside and leave it to future generation to rediscover him.

 

Hans-Theodore Wohlfahrt
 
 
 
 
  

 



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