"Regardless to whether it is staged well or not, this opera is always a success," said director Achim Freyer in regards to "Die Zauberflöte" in an interview with journalist Mathais Heizmann. Not only is he correct, but from this seemingly apathetic mindset, Freyer has procured numerous versatile productions of Mozart's beloved "Die Zauberflöte," including last night's, which has been a fixture at the Semperoper since 2006.
The conglomeration of the disproportional doors and windows (reminiscent of something out of Lewis Carrol's "Alice in Wonderland"), loud colors and clownish makeup, and incongruous costumes was nothing short of an eyesore, but the aesthetics need not be beautiful to create valid, perceptive theater. The outlandish sets and costumes shone with a comfortingly childish simplicity and, most importantly, served their overt symbolic purposes.
Stefan Klingele began the evening in good taste with a poised, dynamic rendition of "Die Zauberflöte"'s famous overture; more impressively, however, Klingele kept an energetic thread pulled taut even through the opera's frequent spoken dialogue. This choppy opera does not lend itself well to fluidity, but Klingele and the orchestra's diligent energy manifested itself in an arching continuity throughout the piece.
On few occasions, such as during the Queen of the Night's Act I aria, "O Zittre nicht, mein leiber Sohn," tempos were a little rushed. Anna Siminska, who sang the vengeful Queen of the Night, was not afforded much of a chance to really sink her teeth into this whopping aria at such a clipping speed; all the same, Siminska's powerful and agile voice, as well as her coloratura fireworks, were warmly received. An impressive voice, no doubt, but Siminska's control over it was unreliable and both her Act I and II arias contained glaring lapses in intonation.
Mozart's foil to the shrieking Queen of the Night, who sings in the very stratosphere of the female vocal range, is the placid priest, Sarastro. Michael Eder's balmy voice both soothed and commanded in Sarastro's stately arias. He showed consistency even in the cavernously low tessitura called for in "In diesen heil'gen Hallen," which proved to be one of the highlights of the night.
The honest love of the opera's protagonists, Tamino, sung by Rainer Trost, and Pamina, sung by Ute Selbig, was thankfully not smothered by the loud costumes and slapstick humor, but retained the opera's grounding philosophical aspects. Technically, Trost sang in fine Mozartian form and displayed accuracy and confidence in his role. He was able to bring Tamino from boyhood to manhood with his dynamic finesse and burning sincerity. Selbig played a more sedate, but likable, Pamina. Not the usual damsel in distress, Selbig's Pamina came off as level-headed and much more self-reliant. Her handsome voice possessed a unique, raw quality and was able to achieve an array of expressive colors. Unfortunately, the role was slightly out of Selbig's vocal range and in the instances that a high B-flat were called for, she could not deliver.
Tamino's comic sidekick, Papageno was sung by Austrian baritone, Moritz Gogg. Endowed with tremendous comedic abilities, Gogg illuminated the stage with his good-natured portrayal of the bird catcher who has a taste for life's simple pleasures. Gogg's ironically thick and burly sound juxtaposed Papageno's cowardly nature and added new layers of hilarity to the scene. The role of Papageno's counterpart, Papagena, sung by soprano Nadja Mchantaf, is short and sweet. Despite her minor role, Mchantaf possessed, perhaps, the most genuinely radiant voice of the night and her adorable portrayal of Papageno's uncanny soul mate was a delight.
"Die Zauberflöte" is brimming with magnificent ensemble music. The three ladies enchanted with their plush harmonies and coy attitudes and the many duets, trios, and other ensembles were engaging and well practiced.
The simplicity of the set stressed how vague and truthfully unimportant the setting is to this vitality of this transcendent opera. Watching "The Magic Flute" in which there is no physical flute, however, was a little bizarre. That aside, both the comedic and dramatic found voice in Freyer's long-standing production of "Die Zauberflöte" at the Semperoper and allowed for moments of both quality entertainment and stunning beauty.