The company went all out to make the young spectators feel at home, especially first-timers. Ticket prices were affordable and an insert in the program contained a synopsis of the synopsis and ten Magic Flute fun facts. General Director Els van der Plas welcomed the sea of fresh faces, stressing that opera is also for them and mentioning the various discounts and associations aimed at patrons as young as those still in high school. Judging by the spontaneous reactions during the performance and the loud cheers at the curtain call, DNO picked the right fare for its intended audience.
The cast was a mix of new faces and carry-overs from the previous two runs. Overall, it is the most vocally charismatic yet. After a hint of trouble with flexibility in the portrait aria, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, as the unflagging Prince Tamino, wielded a classy lyric tenor with a heroic glint. On a quest to rescue the captive Pamina, Tamino must also attain enlightenment by undergoing a series of ordeals set by high priest Sarastro. Matching his strong stage presence, soprano Marie Eriksmoen as Pamina sang in unblemished silvery lines. Although sounding every bit like royalty, she also projected relatable warmth and dejection. Fortunately, the Papageno of baritone Thomas Oliemans remains unchanged. Totally at ease vocally and coherent down to the last eye-roll, Oliemans’s Bird-Catcher is one of the best ever performances on this stage. The good-hearted but volatile man in search of a mate triggered both sympathy and mild exasperation. After a brilliant comic routine with wine bottles and a pair of leeks to “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” one couldn’t help but root for him, bird poo stains and all. When Lilian Farahani’s Papagena decided to put an end to his loneliness, the pair descended into the audience and carried it away with their hyperactive duet.
A trio of fine Dutch singers, Judith van Wanroij, Rosanne van Sandwijk and Helena Rasker, sang assertively as the Three Ladies. These sexually aggressive beings with kohl-rimmed eyes are agents of the Queen of the Night, soprano Nina Minasyan, whose waning power is symbolized by her reliance on a cane and a wheelchair. Minasyan, a most valuable newcomer to the cast, effectively conveyed the Queen’s helplessness while fulminating with razor-sharp coloratura. Conductor Antonello Manacorda sculpted the score lovingly, giving the singers all the space they needed. A few lapses in crispness were amply compensated by the balmy sound of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra on period instruments. The audience loved it when principal flute Hanspeter Spannring and Jan-Paul Grijpink on the glockenspiel joined the stage action. The house chorus iced the cake with velvety ensembles.
McBurney relates the tale straight, on a set drained of color, but which constantly fizzes with surprises. The viewer is playfully engaged by the ingenious use of simple theatrical techniques, such as live projections of chalk drawings. Papageno’s birds are actors flapping white pages, leather-bound books form the pillars of Sarastro’s temple. Live sound effects emerge from a cabinet of wonders and the raising and lowering of a suspended platform keeps the characters on the go. No attempt is made to analyze Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto, an exposition of Masonic ideals larded with the unquestioned racism and sexism of 18th-century Europe. An ugly racial slur is erased by having the slave overseer Monostatos describe himself as a monster instead of referring to his skin color. The misogyny remains: women don’t do much except talk a lot and their brains are too feeble to comprehend the knowledge monopolized by Sarastro and his Brotherhood. The work’s Masonic symbolism is absent from the staging, and without it the plot raises several questions. Why is the Queen of the Night evil? How does Tamino ignoring his girlfriend purify and edify either of them? McBurney does not provide any answers.
Although no sides are taken, Sarastro is presented as a messianic, coercive leader. With his silver main and granite bass, Dimitry Ivashchenko was both magnetic and unnerving in the role. One wouldn’t want to run afoul of his right-hand man either, the cold, stern-voiced Maarten Koningsberger. In a cast with practically no weak links, even Sarastro’s goons were pitch-perfect, from tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as the hateful Monostatos to the exemplary Armored Men of Tristan Llŷr Griffiths and Geoffroy Buffière. It may take some extra effort to get young patrons into the opera house, but it is nights such as this one that will make them want to go back.
Cast and production information:
Pamina: Mari Eriksmoen; Queen of the Night: Nina Minasyan; Tamino: Stanislas de Barbeyrac; Papageno: Thomas Oliemans; Sarastro: Dimitry Ivashchenko; First Lady: Judith van Wanroij; Second Lady: Rosanne van Sandwijk; Third Lady: Helena Rasker; Papagena: Lilian Farahani; The Speaker: Maarten Koningsberger; Monostatos: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke; First Priest/Second Armored Man: Geoffroy Buffière; Second Priest/First Armored Man: Tristan Llŷr Griffiths. Three Boys: Boys’ Choir of the Chorakademie Dortmund. Director: Simon McBurney; Movement: Josie Baxter; Set Design: Michael Levine; Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand; Lighting Design: Jean Kalman; Video: Finn Ross; Sound Design: Gareth Fry. Conductor: Antonello Manacorda. Dutch National Opera Chorus. Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Seen at Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam, on Tuesday, 4th of September, 2018.
image_description=Photo courtesy of Dutch National Opera
product_title=Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera
product_by=A review by Jenny Camilleri
product_id=Above photo courtesy of Dutch National Opera