August Everding’s Die Zauberflöte dates back to 1978. It is a traditional, beautiful production, where the director tells the story by following the libretto and all of Schikaneder’s indications on the changes of scenery. The original sets and costumes, by Jürgen Rose, have been restored and re-vamped in 2004, thanks to a re-staging by Helmut Lehberger. Some aspects of the production may feel dated or corny, but the visuals are beautiful, and the direction of the singers-actors is meticulous and effective. Everding emphasises the fairy tale and the funny aspects without discarding the moral lessons, and focuses on the human traits of the characters.

<i>Die Zauberflöte</i> © Wilfried Hösl (2017)
Die Zauberflöte
© Wilfried Hösl (2017)

Die Zauberflöte is a deeply symbolic work, and this of course has excited the imagination of opera directors who, in recent decades, have set it in the most bizarre stagings, adding their own interpretation and symbolism, some more successful than others (see, for example, the new production by Yuval Sharon in Berlin. Not Everding. He doesn’t challenge the audience, doesn’t try to “make us think”, any more than the original authors wanted to. Everding lets Mozart and Schickaneder speak, and doesn’t try to speak for them, or over them. For once, the flute is really a flute and the glockenspiel is a glockenspiel, and not some weapon, or sex toy. It was refreshing, for once.

Tamino, the foreign prince whose costume would have been perfect for Calaf in Turandot, was Pavol Breslik. His tenor was easy on the high notes, light but powerful. His interpretation of “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” was remarkable, with beautiful legato and elegant dynamics. Olga Kulchynska was Pamina, his beloved, who sang with great projection and silvery bright high notes. Her legato was perhaps not always perfect, but overall her performance was very enjoyable.

<i>Die Zauberflöte</i> © Wilfried Hösl (2017)
Die Zauberflöte
© Wilfried Hösl (2017)

Kathryn Lewek was a great Queen of the Night. Her super-high notes were secure and full, she didn’t just “touch” them, she really fully sang into them, and the effect was dramatic and exciting. At the same time, the centre of her voice is well set in the middle, which gives depth and authority to her interpretation. The triplets in the second aria were sweet and heart-melting, judiciously phrased. What a Queen! Mika Kares sang Sarastro with his deep, warm bass; his high notes round and well set. He exuded a calm, a natural authority that fit the character very well. His second aria “In diesen heil'gen Hallen” was particularly heartfelt and beautiful.

Sean Michael Plumb was a young, spirited Papageno, with a natural flair for comedy and humour, as requested by the character. His lumberjack physique, highlighted by breeches and suspenders, helped the interpretation of the “man of nature”, clowning around while Tamino went through the initiation in Sarastro’s temple. The duet with Papagena, spiritedly sung by Sarah Gilford, was one of the cutest (and corniest) ideas in the production: about a dozen little children ran on stage, jumping and dancing, and at the end Papageno stuffed them all in a wheeled cart and pulled them away. Not the most original idea, but very well executed, and perfectly in style with the music.

<i>Die Zauberflöte</i> © Wilfried Hösl (2017)
Die Zauberflöte
© Wilfried Hösl (2017)

The three ladies – Kiandra Howarth, Samantha Hankey and Okka von der Damerau – stood out for their precision and interpretation in the ensembles; they also showed great acting abilities, intertwining their movements as well as their musical phrases with ease and confidence.

Ulrich Reß was a suitably creepy Monostatos, sung with a clear, pleasant tenor. All the other singers, Milan Siljanov as the Speaker, Wolfgang Grabow, Scott MacAllister and Peter Lobert as the priests and the armoured men, contributed to a high-level cast with beautiful singing and interpretation. The three boys, from the Tölzer Knabenchors, were dressed in 18th-century clothes and wigs (they looked like three mini-Mozart’s); they sang with competence and were quite funny.

Asher Fisch led the Bayerisches Staatsorchester with a strong hand, keeping all the many ensembles together with ease, and highlighting beautiful phrases. Perhaps not a most inspiring reading of the score, but a very effective one. The chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper was the most penalised by the director’s choices: they often sang off stage from afar, or from an awkward position, and it was hard to hear them at all.

The performance was (obviously) in German, and with no subtitles! Many children were in the audience (even if it was a school night), well-behaved and attentive, laughing at Papageno’s jokes and applauding the most successful ideas of the production. It was almost strange to not have the constant distraction of the shining words in our line of vision: a welcome blast from the past.

****1