Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered - Mozart's The Magic Flute broadcast from Glyndebourne

Mozart: The Magic Flute - David Portillo - Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - David Portillo - Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Mozart The Magic Flute; David Portillo, Björn Bürger, Sofia Fomina, Brindley Sherratt, Caroline Wettergreen, dir: Barbe & Doucet, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ryan Wigglesworth; Broadcast live from Glyndebourne OPera
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 4 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Barbe & Doucet's picture-book production broadcast live

On Sunday 4 August Mozart’s The Magic Flute was broadcast live from the 2019 Glyndebourne Festival. This new production by the renowned directing/design duo Barbe & Doucet took a playful, if not always illuminating, look at the opera’s gender politics. A young cast of singers led by Caroline Wettergreen (Queen of the Night), Sofia Fomina (Pamina), Björn Bürger (Papageno) and David Portillo (Tamino) were joined by Glyndebourne regular Brindley Sherratt as Sarastro. With Ryan Wigglesworth conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The assertion during the preamble that The Magic Flute contains racism and sexism is scarcely news to any regular opera goer, but the fact that Barbe & Doucet had previously eschewed invitations to stage it, as a result, seemed a tad odd. Would the audience have imputed that they too were racist and sexist for having dared tackle the work? And they chose to carve a career in Opera? What on earth were they expecting from an eighteenth-century Singspiel, Mary Wollstonecraft?

Mozart: The Magic Flute - Martin Snell, David Portillo, Björn Bürger, Thomas Atkins- Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - Martin Snell, David Portillo, Björn Bürger, Thomas Atkins
Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)

Fortunately, the familiar tingle I feel hearing those familiar chords was enough to return my eyebrows to their recumbent position. Barbe & Doucet’s take on the opera was set in an hotel. André Barbe‘s pen and ink set designs were painstaking and handsomely reproduced, the vivid costumes against the monochrome gave it a magical picture book appeal. It was a visual treat, inventive, atmospheric and witty by turns. Talking dumbwaiters, veggie monsters à la Arcimboldo, startlingly beautiful and imaginative puppetry, even unexpected Suffragists in the cellar. The conceit being its all a dream. The fantastical imaginings of a sleepwalking Tamino in his jimjams. So, fair dos.

Musically, if not sparklingly nimble it was a least beautiful. David Portillo made ‘Dies bildnis’ look easy and who wouldn’t love the easy charm of Björn Bürger’s Papageno. Caroline Wettergreen was a nuanced Queen who you might even have felt sorry for. Her effortless coloratura was precise and glittering but the addition of a stratospheric cadenza in ‘O zittre nicht’ whilst technically impressive felt out of place. Sofia Fomina’s intoxicating soprano did the poignant business but it was Brindley Sherratt’s orotund and refined Sarastro, even with the jarring misogyny, that stole the show.

Mozart: The Magic Flute - Björn Bürger, Sofia Fomina - Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - Björn Bürger, Sofia Fomina - Glyndebourne
(Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
The trouble for me was that there appeared to be two different productions vying for our attention. A heuristic one that was reflected in the very serious interpretation from the pit and a bewitching and irreverent one that would have made everyone forget the perverse inconsistencies – reinstating all the awkward references, strangely sidestepping Monostatos’s race by making him a coal man with a dust blackened physog but then gratuitously having The Three Ladies in suspenders and a comedy dwarf in the kitchen. I just wished they’d settled on one and gone for broke. As it was, in the tussle, the comedic rhythms and choreography too often missed their mark and its inconsistencies left me befuddled and disappointed.

Mozart: The Magic Flute - Katharina Magiera, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Esther Dierkes, David Portillo - Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - Katharina Magiera, Marta Fontanals-Simmons,
Esther Dierkes, David Portillo
Glyndebourne (Photo Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. / Bill Cooper)
Tamino : David Portillo
Papageno : Björn Bürger
Pamina : Sofia Fomina
Sarastro : Brindley Sherratt
Queen of the Night : Caroline Wettergreen
Monostatos : Jörg Schneider
First Lady : Esther Dierkes
Second Lady : Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Third Lady : Katharina Magiera
Speaker : Michael Kraus
Direction and Design : Barbe & Doucet
Conductor : Ryan Wigglesworth
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Glyndebourne Chorus

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