Die Zauberflöte has to do without scenery or costumes, but you forget that in the end ★★★★

The Queen of the Night (Sophia Theodorides) and the three ladies keep Pamina (Isabel Weller) in check.Sculpture Marco Burggreve

Who had a ticket for Die Zauberflöte van de Nederlandse Reisopera received some unpleasant news just before the premiere. Due to understaffing, caused among other things by illness, the planned staging, directed by Floris Visser, proved unfeasible. Instead, the company will tour with a concert version, without sets or costumes.

A disappointing decision for all involved. Anyone interested in Visser’s ideas about Mozart’s last opera should go to Vienna, where co-producer De Volksoper Wien will program the production for an upcoming season. De Reisopera, meanwhile, had to come up with an alternative performance in just nine days. Assistant directors Stan Geurts and Anne Slothouwer took over the management. The musicians from Phion, Orchestra of Gelderland & Overijssel, who were on stage, became part of the performance.

More than a handful of props and cleverly chosen clothes are not necessary for a convincing semi-staging, as the premiere night in Enschede shows. Mozart and the inspired cast do the rest. Concentrated, the room is completely engrossed in the adventures of Prince Tamino, the melodic but often unnecessarily blaring tenor David Kerber, rescuing Pamina from the clutches of the sorcerer Sarastro.

But is this Sarastro, the impressive bass Petri Lindroos, or Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, the real villain? She has been denied power, solely because she is a woman. No wonder she is furious with revenge, shooting vindictive high notes into the air through soprano Sophia Theodoride’s flawless throat.

A director had to do something about the sexist (in the 18th century just the prevailing) ideas. Librettist Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) took elements from fairy tales, Viennese folk theater and literary texts. It is certain that, in close collaboration with Mozart, he wove into the plot symbolism that referred to Freemasonry. Both gentlemen were freemasons and freethinkers.

According to the text, women are dangerous, not to be trusted and should be morally guided by a man. Their mere presence is enough to desecrate the sun temple of Sarastro and his priests. But Pamina, played by Isabel Weller, likable and articulate, bravely goes through the initiation rites with Tamino. Using the magic flute, they pass through fire and swirling water to reach the highest level of enlightenment.

As a reward, they are initiated into the cult of the sun priest Sarastro and forever reject the reactionary establishment represented by the Queen of the Night and her female enforcers. As actors, these Three Ladies (Kristina Bitenc, Polly Leech and Anna Traub) stand out with their very believable toughness. At first the first lady tones too sharply, then the trio is also very strong vocally.

In the end, character, not gender, proves to be decisive in attaining higher wisdom. The childish bird catcher Papageno, a fantastic role by Modestas Sedlevicius, is not accepted into society despite the best efforts of his guardian angels, three beautifully harmonizing boys. He has enough food and drink and a sweet life companion.

Without a director’s concept, the spectator is free to give his own interpretation of all this – or not. You can also just enjoy yourself, because even the supporting roles are brilliantly occupied by singers such as the solid bass baritone Artur Janda, until the last priest.

Conductor Marcus Merkel (on tour he alternates with Wolfgang Wengenroth) is entirely at the service of the music and assists the singers. He provides balance and a descriptive, natural phrasing. The orchestra plays beautifully easily. When the high priest speaks, the accompaniment is solemn but never heavy. With Papageno there is carefree jumping.

By the end of the evening, the audience has long since forgotten that this is a semi-concert performance. When the members of Consensus Vocalis, dressed in strict black and white, sing of the victory of light over darkness during the closing chorus, the stage picture honestly does not look very different from many staged productions. Like Tamino and Pamina, the Reisopera passed its test with flying colours.

Like many other companies, Nederlandse Reisopera depends on freelancers, but many of them said goodbye to the cultural sector in the lean corona years. Sick set builders, technicians, make-up artists and hairdressers cannot simply be replaced. ‘Our filing cabinets have become emptier,’ says Anke Peeters Weem, communications and marketing coordinator at Reisoperaen. On tour, build and tear down a large-scale production as Die Zauberflöte by director Floris Visser security is at stake due to the lack of staff. Therefore, the opera is performed semi-concert, without sets and, as they are an integral part of the production concept, without the original costumes.

Mozart: The Magic Flute



Of the Dutch travel opera. Phion, orchestra in Gelderland & Overijssel and Consensus Vocalis conducted by Marcus Merkel.

20/1, Wilminktheater, Enschede. Tour until 23/2.

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