It's Friday, yay! (in case you haven't noticed). I'm going to try and do my grocery shopping tonight, so I can take advatage of this milder weather and do a bit more pruning on Saturday, and just enjoy my crocuses, my handful of snowdrops and solitary daffodil, as well as all the birds singing and feeding and beginning to think Spring. But first, I never did get around to reviewing “Die Zauberflöte” on Tuesday; and it’s Friday already. I’ll try to do it briefly now, while I sit eating this slightly bizarre lunch of a chutney-and-potato-salad sandwich (end of the week fare if ever I saw it).
It’s a production I’ve seen before, a couple of times, and I also have a Dvd of the first run. The Dvd was filmed just after Favourite Baritone fell through the stage at a rehearsal and smashed himself up good’n’proper – by the middle of Act 2 you can tell he’s in pain, but he soldiers on, acting his socks off and singing like an angel right to the end. He’s certainly the star of the show, for sheer heroism as well as his superb performance; which is saying something, in a cast that also features Dorothea Röschmann’s luscious Pamina, not to mention Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro and Diana Damrau as a fearsome Queen of Night. The one weak link is the character who is a bit of a weak link anyway, namely the Tamino. I can’t even remember the singer’s name; he was dry-voiced, and he couldn’t act, and consequently made very little impression.
Tamino can’t be an easy character to play. He can very quickly seem a bit of a bore, and a not-very-bright one at that; one doesn’t instantly recognise a hero in this bland stuffed shirt prince, and Sarastro’s insistence that “Noch mer, er ist Mensch” can sound a little desperate. I’ve never seen a good Tamino (until now), certainly not one I’d call a mensch, and have always wondered if I’d respond differently to the whole piece if he could hold his own as a character beside Papageno and Pamina, who are so real and full of life and feeling.
Well, now I know he can. Joseph Kaiser is blessed with an expressive, attractive voice - not flawless, but warm and sweet, and big enough to sound healthily gutsy; he makes a lovely job of “Dies Bildnis”; he’s tall and very presentable, too, and he can act. Result? – for the first time ever I believed in Tamino; I liked him and was convinced by him. Suddenly he was no dull prig but a real man, brave and open, easily misled because he has been sheltered, not because he’s dim; genuinely scared, genuinely learning and growing; falling in love, facing fear and change and responsibility, and learning the depths of what being royal, in an inner sense as well as a worldly one, means. I rooted for him; I wanted him to do right, and to get the girl.
“Die Zauberflöte” can be seen as proposing two alternative philosophies of how to live; the way of the Pure Quest, and the way of the Full Life. Tamino and Pamina choose the Pure Quest, the spiritual rigour of the Initiates, and Papageno takes the other path, engaging completely with real life and turning his back on the binary world view, the whole idea of the “pure” and “impure”. I’ve always tended to side with Papageno; to think “Why would anyone in their right mind choose to go through all this fear and struggle, and be tested this hard? - even to having to reject the one you love, having to break their heart and act as if you don’t care - all to show your obedience to laws you don’t even know, much less understand?”
I realise this tells me that Papageno’s way is the way for me; oh yes, definitely the Full Life for me, gut glas wein, Ich bin ein Natürmensch and all. But it was good to see the Pure Quest seem credible instead of baffling; and it was good, just for once, to be glad Pamina falls for Tamino, instead of thinking “That lass has no taste in men!”
In this revival, the production is perhaps tending a little more to the warm-hearted and comic, but there’s room for plenty of laughter without masking the depths, here, after all. Christopher Maltman may not have Favourite Baritone’s astonishingly subtle acting skills, or quite his rich delicacy of voice (Favourite B’s voice still gives me goosebumps), but he was an honest, warm, charming Papageno. The stand-in Queen of Night sounded tense. Franz-Josef Selig returned to Sarastro and was in lustrous voice; he may be built like a wardrobe but he sings like a demi-god, and conveys the required air of lordly gravity without pomposity (& I’ve seen a pompous Sarastro or two…). The three boys were terrific. The sets still look lovely. The choruses were moving and the orchestra were in good form.
In short, it was everything I’d hoped for, when I asked Jane if she’d like to come to the opera; a lovely evening, both heart-warming fun and quietly thought-provoking, just as a good Magic Flute should be.
And Baby Bro has decided to intermit for a year from his degree; so he can concentrate on getting well again, and we can all stop worrying about him.
Looking forward to the weekend, though I'm sorry it doesn't include any more parties. But what with the garden, "Ramundi's Sisters", and cooking, plus "Parsifal" on Sunday afternoon, I think I'll be busy enough. Have a good one, everyone!