Die Zauberflöte in Salzburg

Aug 01, 2006

Miles Berry

Clare and I are in Salzburg for a holiday, and having a brilliant time of it, despite my travelling with laptop and phone (v. sad!). We were last here three years ago, again at Festival time, and if anything the town, and the Festival, seems even smarter this time round, perhaps for the celebrations around Mozart’s 250th anniversary, for which the festival are staging all 22 of his operas (and no others), including the ones only musicologists have heard of. We’re only making it to a couple of the Festival events proper, Le Nozze di Figaro having sold out already when we applied for tickets back in January, but are planning to take in a few of the ‘fringe’ events, which means chamber music, choral concerts, organ recitals and open air opera screenings here, rather than Edinburgh’s alternative comedy.

So thanks to ticketing quirks, the first of our proper Festival evenings was the opening night of the Magic Flute, on the evening of the same day that saw us leaving home at 4.00 AM. No worries. Properly dressed up, although not quite in the league of some of the locals who take this sort of thing very seriously with Dirndls and other traditional garbe in evidence, we made it into town with enough time for a glass of prosecco and a little bit of a pose in front of the crowds lining the street opposite the Festspielhaus, prior to making our way up to the cheap(er) seats up at the top.

Die ZauberfloteIt’s a very dreamlike Zauberflöte, which we’ve subsequently learned started life in Amsterdam, back in 1995, with bright, primary colours much in evidence and set designs which have a child-like naivity to them, together with lots of aztec references, which is new for us. There are nods in the direction of the Salzburg mountains, making one wonder how much the prince-archbishop ruled town of his birth might have been an inspiration for the piece, a reference made more apparent by dressing the Queen’s three ladies in Austrian hunting costumes. It’s also the first Magic Flute I’ve seen that highlights the racial dimension of Monostatos’s character, with the actor (Burkhard Ulrich)blacked up and an element of “Is it ‘cos I is black?” to much of his part. The first act passed well enough, feeling like a good, competent production, rather than the ground-breaking, unassailable production value stuff that we’d enjoyed at Salzburg last time we were here – lots of nice touches, but relatively little which one could say was outstanding or highly innovative, and nowhere near as clever or entertaining as Glyndebourne’s production from 2004. The second act though seemed far superior, with some great touches, such as highly effective use of the aztec pyramid, a whole host of knights with flaming helmets, and an amazing bit of water and fire stage machinery at the conclusion of the trials, plus a sense of narrative flow through the various scenes that can often be missing from this act.

With the Vienna Phil. and Muti down in the pit, the music was at least as wonderful as one would expect, and there were moments when I found myself closing my eyes to just concentrate on the sound. The singing was jolly good too, with a captivating, and well acted, Papageno from Christian Gerhaher, and a particularly lovely Pamina from the local Genia Kuhmeier. Rene Pape’s Sarastro carried suitable authority, and Diana Damrau’s 2nd act aria as the Queen of the Night was far more moving than that in the first act, where she perhaps suffered through having to dress as a cabbage. All in all, a very good, rather than truly great production, but just the same sense of occasion to it anyhow.