Opera Reviews
12 May 2021
Untitled Document

Lost in animation

by Catriona Graham
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Edinburgh International Festival
August 2015

Sweet dreams? Or full of disjunctions and non sequiturs? A bit like the Komische Oper Berlin’s production of Die Zauberflöte, at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The whole performance takes place at the front of the stage, before a screen on which Paul Barritt’s animation is projected. But this is no moving wallpaper; the singers are part of it, interact with it. Rather, it is moving scenery, props and costumes.

The Queen of the Night as spider, with animation providing the body, arms and malevolent legs. The Three Boys, as Harry Potters, with butterfly wings. Papageno, the bird-catcher, with a black cat – well, it tries to catch birds…

The magic flute itself as a nude Tinkerbell and Papageno’s bells as red-clad showgirls. Papageno’s drink is a pink cocktail, which intoxicates him with visions of pink elephants in stripey stockings, reclining in martini glasses.

Though it is styled as a silent movie – the costumes of all but Papageno and Papagena are monochrome – and with elaborate subtitles in place of the spoken dialogue, it would take several viewings to identify every visual influence. Among those I noticed were Jan Pienkowski, particularly the silhouettes, a bit of Arthur Rackham, and Terry Gilliam. Even the animation behind the "Pa … pa … pa ..." duet recollected ‘Every sperm is sacred’ from Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’.

The Three Boys travel in a basket borne aloft by a moth instead of a balloon. The Armed Men take Tamino down through the Earth in a lift. The procession includes mechanical birds and bouncing monkeys. Sarastro appears on a decorated elephant. The fire-breathing monster of the Trial is charmed by the flute into laid-back sweetness and light. It may be significant that outlines of poppy heads are seen – is this an ordinary dream, or drug-induced?

But it must be hard work for the singers, standing perched as they so frequently are on wee semi-circular platforms high above the stage. Queen of the Night Olga Pudova is crystal clear. Nina Bernsteiner, Karolina Gumos and Ezgi Kutlu are Three Lady flappers. Dominik Königer in a mustard suit and boater is an engaging Papageno, with an expressive clown’s face. His Papagena is Julia Giebel, in greenery-yallery stockings and tutu. Peter Renz, as Monostatos, in white-face, has an edge to his voice which conveys a sleazy, whiney evil, rather than wickedness. His vicious dog has a snarling match with Papageno’s cat. Dmitry Ivashchenko’s Sarastro is a model of solemnity for the men of the chorus.

The staging makes Tamino a rather static role for evening-dressed Allan Clayton, more done unto than doing, but he sings well. As does his Pamina, Maureen Mckay, in black 1920s dress with Peter Pan collar and Louise Brookes (or director Suzanne Andrade) hairstyle, copied, for the finale, by the ladies of the chorus.

Despite their efforts, and those of the orchestra and conductor Kristiina Poska, the music rather gets lost in the staging and the general busyness of what is going on in the animation.

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo © Iko Freese, drama-berlin.de
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