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Maybe Don't Dip Your Ears (Cover Your Eyes)

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Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Harnoncourt / Zürich Opera
For most opera-lovers, this Zauberflöten-DVD will likely disqualify just on account of its wildly mediocre singing. Maybe the voices were not caught well in this live broadcast, either – it’s difficult to tell what or who the main culprits are. Suffice it to say that none of the singers – save perhaps Matti Salminen’s Sarastro – are particularly worth listening to.

That is a shame in principle, because I find a Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Martin Kušej Mozart-cooperation a very exciting proposition given their spectacular and dramatic La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg. Too bad, then, that the production matches the singing.

Not for lack of ideas or their quality, or for an surplus of director’s ego – but sadly for execution. Even after hearing Kušej and stage designer Rolf Glittenberg explain their principally genial concept of setting the Magic Flute as a string of fantastical episodes in the mysteriously dark cellar of a house from a child’s point of view and imagination, the reality of the production – half “Terminal”, half “Snakes on a Plane” – ruins it, still.

Had the envisioned setting been translated more effectively, the Three Ladies “of the night” being blind might have come off better. The grayish basement-imp of a Queen of the Night might have invoked a dreamy or nightmarish sense. And instead of covering Papageno with feathers, dousing his suit with bird shit might have been “compellingly effective” (as a Vienna on-line magazine described the production). Instead it’s not “astoundingly clever” (according to Zurich’s major daily) – it’s just too clever by half.

A good modern Magic Flute would be highly welcome, and if Kušej were to try again, I’d be very eager to see it, indeed. But this wimpishly sung production can’t possibly be the realization of his own ambitions. Harnoncourt’s flexible and pointed conducting is not nearly enough to rescue the project.

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