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Marc Minkowski's Magic Flute

Marc Minkowski was 20 years old when he founded Les Musiciens du Louvre. He has since branched out from this Baroque specialization and is now on the podium at the Opéra Bastille leading Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Jacqueline Thuilleux interviewed him (Marc Minkovski : «La Flûte appelle mille lectures», January 24) for Le Figaro. The production is a strange one by most accounts, and not surprisingly Gérard Mortier is behind it (he commissioned it for the Ruhr Festival in Bochum and has now brought it to Paris).

What experience do you have with Mozart?

I was lucky enough to start out calmly, when a little Toronto company, ten years ago, offered me The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, in English, for an audience that understood every word and reacted as in the theater. Then I debuted for the Opéra Bastille, in 1996, with Idomeneo. The same year, Gérard Mortier, whom I did not know personally, incredibly entrusted me with Die Entführung aus dem Serail in Salzburg. He also hired me for this Enchanted Flute adventure in 2003, in Bochum. In the meantime, there was The Marriage of Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail in Aix-en-Provence, the other natural Mozart homeland. This summer I will conduct Mithridate in Salzburg, and I am preparing the New Year's concert which I will give next year.

What does the Flute mean to you in general?

It's a kaleidoscope where extreme science and touching naïveté are combined, the Masonic symbols of the numeral 3 carried by the tonality of E-flat major (three flats on the staff), and the bare grace of the glockenspiel or the flute. There are hits like the Queen of the Night's arias, refined jewels like the ensembles with the Ladies and the Children, cathedralesque finales where Mozart pushes formal invention to its limits before everything is reversed and becomes deliciously popular again. A marvelous musical theatricality enlightens the spirit of the characters, from the simple orchestrated chords that accompany Der Sprecher to the most sophisticated polyphony.

And this one in particular?

When I agreed to conduct this Ruhr Festival production again, it was because I don't think that the music suffers from the choices made by the directors. It is at the heart of their thoughts and work. Furthermore, in Paris, the poems substituted for Schikaneder's dialogue will not be recorded as in Bochum, but recited by two great, very musically sensitive actors, Dominique Blanc et Pascal Greggory. Sure, these experiments are risky, but I find them thrilling. The Flute, German culture's gift to the world, invites a thousand interpretations. This one will make people think and dream, I hope. Plus, you have the right to prepare yourself a little to go see such a masterpiece!

And the futuristic vision of the work?

In all Masonic stories, here as in Rameau's Les Boréades, the location is unspecified: that famous Orient is an imaginary country where anything can happen [see my post on Opera and Egypt from January 3]. Which does not keep me from remaining faithful to the shock of my youth, Bergman's film, inspite of the Swedish! Shortly before his death, Daniel Toscan du Plantier offered me and Coline Serreau the chance to make a second film version! What audacity after the miracle of Bergman!
Philippe Herlin's review (Théâtre mental, January 24) for fills in some of the details about the experimental nature of the production (my translation):
We are called to an exceptional, perhaps historic evening by the Catalunyan group La Fura dels Baus and artist Jaume Plensa with Magic Flute that we appear to be rediscovering. The approach is radical (but the humor is safe, to be sure): the opera's characters appear like the patients of a psychiatric hospital of which Sarastro seems to be the chief psychiatrist, surrounded by nurses (the machinists) dressed in white shirts. But happily they are not playing here on the oppressive imprisonment of the place but rather on the mental exploration it allows: computer-generated videos are projected on the set's large white walls, representing the psychological states of the protagonists (fear by a snake made of words, lust with Monostatos filming himself approaching Pamina, death with a coffin gliding like a bird at the moment when Pamina want to kill herself) while inflatable modules of six by three meters [20 by 10 feet]—like large mattresses—are deflated, reinflated, piled up, juxtaposed, providing a vertical labyrinth of feminine faces, creating an organic set, a sort of materialization of thought. We are ultimately not sure if the Queen of the Night might not be Pamina's hallucination, and she herself being one in Tamino's soul. More than "play within a play," this is a deconstruction of the opera, to focus on the mental universe of the characters, rather than the concrete manifestation of their interaction. After the work on the subtext undertaken by opera directors beginning in the 1970s, we may now be witnessing, with video and visual artists (after Robert Lepage's Damnation and before the Tristan of Peter Sellars and Bill Viola in April), the emergence of work on representing the mental states of characters. A fascinating perspective is surely opening before us.
Herlin does not care, however, for the new poetry ("grandiloquent and meaningless") that replaces the libretto's dialogue, attributed to a Catalunyan poet named Rafael Argullol. Die Zauberflöte will be at the Opéra Bastille until February 20.


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