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MOZART: Die Zauberflöte

spacer Bobro, Durlovski; Reinhardt, Schmutzhard, Reiter; Prague Philharmonic Choir, Vienna Symphony, Summers. 
Production: Pountney. C Major 713708 (DVD) or 713804 (Blu-ray), 149 mins., subtitled


Technology both enlivens and blud­geons this July 2013 revival of David Pountney's Zauberflöte at the Bregenz Festival. On the company's "floating" stage, erected on piles of steel and wood driven deep into Lake Constance, is a rotating dome that sprouts 125 "blades of grass" that inflate up to twenty feet in length, forming a jungle, and change color throughout the show. Beyond the stage, three "dragon dogs," linked by bridges, tower ninety feet above the water. Between the stage and the lakeside audience, a semicircular carousel track conducts vessels that are more or less seaworthy. (At an August performance, three singers, a stunt double and a technician were dumped into the lake.)

The stagecraft of set designer Johan Engels and costume and puppet designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca is colorful, sometimes magical. A snake slithers into the lake, inflates to python size and constricts Tamino's vessel. The Three Ladies are puppets astride dragons, the Three Boys are bobbleheads, and the Two Armed Men are puppet knights on jousting steeds. (The viewer wonders where all eight singers are.) In the trials by fire and water, Tamino and Pamina doubles walk behind real flames and submerge themselves in the lake. (We don't see them surface.) With all the competition, the only principals to make much visual impact are Martin Koch's athletic Monostatos and Dénise Beck's peppy cheerleader of a Papagena.

Pountney, who is now the company's artistic director, depicts Monostatos as Sarastro's shadow, whom Sarastro punishes for expressing his own repressed sexuality. During an overture punctuated by flares, explosions and screaming, Monostatos and his minions chase a Pamina double all over the dome before Sarastro abducts her — Mozartean singspiel as shoot-'em-up action flick. Music and, more often, dialogue suffer repeated electronic intrusions — birds squawking, dogs barking, fire crackling, water dripping and bubbling, whistles and wind blowing, synthesized mood music, more explosions. Incredibly, Act II's three chords from the overture blare at altered pitches on electronic percussion and guitars — Masonic-mode Mozart as heavy metal. Actors do melodramatic voiceovers for the Three Ladies, the Queen of the Night and even Pamina's dead father.

Piped out from the adjacent Festspielhaus is the playing of the Vienna Symphony under Patrick Summers, who cues the principals via monitors. One can't expect precise ensemble playing under these conditions, but the result here is somewhat leaden. Daniel Schmutzhard's Papageno is handsomely sung. Norman Reinhardt and Bernarda Bobro are believable and appealing as Tamino and Pamina, though her tone thins and whitens on high. Ana Durlovski's Queen, ugly in declamatory and florid singing on the staff, shines in the high roulades. Alfred Reiter's wobbly Sarastro, Koch's pallid-voiced Monostatos and Eike Wilm Schulte's pitch-challenged Speaker are a disappointment. Considering the on-site amplification, the recorded sound is surprisingly clean.

The time between sunset and when public transportation stops running (the small city can't lodge all seven thousand festival-spectators) leaves a short performing window, so this Zauberflöte plays without interval. The Act I finale loses its last six choral lines and ties directly to the March of the Priests, over which Sarastro speaks his dialogue. Axed from Act II are not only the sexist priests' duet but a verse of Sarastro's "In diesen heil'gen Hallen," the entire Pamina–Sarastro–Tamino trio and a verse of Papageno's "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen." spacer


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