"The Magic Flute" is Mozart's most popular and beloved opera, and its
melodies - from Papageno's folkloric tunes to the Queen of the Night's
breathtaking coloraturas - are familiar even among non-listeners of
classical music. In this production by Pierre Audi, however, it is the eyes
and not the ears that first fall under the spell of this truly magical
"Magic Flute." From the illustration on the stage curtain to the
incredible, wildly colored, primeval-looking monsters, animals and
decorative elements on the stage, the production is dominated by the
unmistakable expressive world of the Dutch artist and sculptor Karel Appel.
A co-founder of the acclaimed Cobra Group, Appel developed a darkly
expressionistic idiom and was the "secret dramaturge" of the production,
says director Audi. Appel died at the age of 85 three months before the
premiere of "Die Zauberflöte" at the Salzburg Festival.
Blending smoothly into Appel's exotic designs, director Pierre Audi's
production is neither a contemporization nor a deconstruction of Mozart's
German Singspiel, which was written in 1791 and was one of Mozart's last
works. Instead, Audi leaves the alleged stylistic breaks and unresolved
conflicts between good and evil as they are and seeks to "give them a
home," as he puts it. He relates the fairy-tale story of the "Magic Flute"
in a sensual and playful, but never childlike or childish way, using
Appel's sets as a component of his vision.
While the sets may be a treat for the eyes, the music is a feast for the
ears. Metropolitan Opera and La Scala star Diana Damrau shines as a Queen
of the Night who effortlessly tosses out her coloraturas with dazzling
accuracy. René Pape's Sarastro is a worthy counterpart, a solemn figure
with balsamic bass tones. Paul Groves' supple tenor voice ensures a
faultless Tamino next to the captivatingly natural lyricism of Genia
Kühmeier's Pamina. Christian Gerhaher is a welcome, almost restrained
Papageno. His Papagena, Irena Bespalovaite, brings her fresh musicality to
the ensemble. The Vienna Philharmonic is led with an expert hand by the
great Riccardo Muti.