In my fourth post on the Berlin Staatsoper’s 1994 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, I should probably start by saying that there is nothing new to write about the staging, but the fact is that this is not true. Spielleiterinen Katharina Lang and Cornelia Sandow have done a good job in letting the Ensemble singers bring their own personalities to August Everding’s original plan and the show has never seemed fresher to my eyes as this evening. Wolfram-Maria Märtig too is a new name to me – and he too seemed determined to give the Magic Flute some refreshing: the Staatskapelle Berlin showed a light, precise sound, scarce in vibrato and soft on singers on stage. I can see the conductor’s keenness on elegance, giving the orchestra time to sculpt Mozartian phrasing I absolute clarity. I can also see the way he seemed to have the text in mind, trying to stress the variations of atmosphere in the libretto – I just don’t understand why it has been done at the expense of natural rhythmical flow and dynamic variety. The result was often crafty but rather unconvincing and short in expression, the equivalent of producing a perfect plastic rose and trying to persuade a seasoned florist to sell it instead of natural flowers. As it was, tempi were usually on the slow side, with many artificial breathing pauses and ralentando effects that tested unnecessarily his soloists. The only instance of fast pace was the true andante adopted for Pamina’s aria, extremely well judged and an example of how better the performance could have been if Mozart could speak for himself unaided more often today.
Anna Prohaska’s Pamina has the advantage of a Irmgard Seefried-like naturalness built rather by verbal acuity, clear diction, rhythmic alertness, good taste, directness of expression and sense of style than by tonal variety or extraordinary vocal quality. Some awkward passages – the ending of her duet with Papageno for instance – sounded unusually nimble and musicianly, but the role is still a bit heavy for her. Pamina’s “suicide attempt” scene took her to her limits, even if she did not produce any ugly sound even then. She is an animated actress, but still needs to learn how to move in a less angular and unnatural way, as she presently does. Anna Siminska was the main victim of the conductor’s ponderousness, which robbed the Queen of the Níght’s arias of any impact or élan. The soprano proved to be a trouper, taking profit of the circumstances to make something of the text, but she could not produce the necessary excitement by herself. I have often wondered why mastery of Mozartian style and the ability of singing with honest technique and naturalness are more often than not incompatible qualities for tenors in this repertoire. This evening, Stephan Rügamer showed that he knows how this music should be sung, but his manipulation of basic tonal quality (especially the always increasing nasality of his vocal production) makes the results rather an acquired taste. Gyula Orendt, on the other hand, is spontaneity itself as Papageno, a commendable performance. Jan Martiník’s Sarastro has more than a splash of the young Franz-Josef Selig: the tone is noble and clean in a very German way, the low register is easy and spacious and he tackles Mozartian lines with poise and feeling. Among the small roles, Raimund Nolte was a strong Sprecher, Anna Lapkovskaja a fruity-toned Third Lady and Michael Smallwood an unusually pleasant Monostatos.