Foto: Jef Rabillon
The Magic Flute is not a perfect opera: it doesn’t have the clockwork dramaturgy of Le Nozze di Figaro nor the somber gracefulness of Don Giovanni; Schikaneder is not Da Ponte, the Flute’s characters don’t have the complex and lifelike psychology of the great Mozart/Da Ponte works. The Magic Flute is not a perfect opera, it is more than that: it is universal. The Magic Flute is an opera of magic and for the magic to work it is essential to leave at the cloakroom cynicism, materialism and all the other i-phones of our post-modern spirit. We only need to follow the Three Boys, for truth comes from the mouth of babes. This is the spirit of the 2006 production of Anger Nantes Opéra, fortunately taken up this year again. Its authors, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, stage directors, Mark Shanahan, conductor, Christian Fenouillat, scenography, Agostino Cavalca, costumes, and Christophe Forey, lighting, have taken the work back to its magic simplicity, with the help of live doves, a few gorillas, a polar bear and a rhinoceros. This Flute is full of humour, but it takes itself seriously: The ambiance is there right from the overture. Mark Shanahan conducts the Orchestra des Pays de la Loire with a light and aerial solemnity. His somewhat slow tempi allow the words to unfold their deeper sense. The orchestra accompanies the singers very sensitively, sounding like a chamber music ensemble, finely nuanced. The staging as well is simple and easy to read: mostly the stage is empty, a few luminous props and the costumes are enough to explain what the singers and orchestra are saying. Voluminous decorations in any case would have made the different theatrical coups impossible - apparitions, disappearances through the trapdoors and flying people. The costumes as well are being kept simple: Pamina and Tamino are wearing white and blue, the Queen of the Night is fittingly in red, Papageno in egg-yolk-yellow and the Three Ladies are glittering with multicoloured sequins. Sarastro and his people are wearing nondescript suits of grey. Elmar Gilbertsson, the remarkable young Icelandic tenor, is Tamino. With his dark brooding good looks and haughty ways, and his tender and tonic tenor voice, he is the perfect incarnation of the prince in love, of the courageous knight on his quest – the noble and spiritual part of the human soul, as it were. His more earthly-minded counterpart, Papageno, is played with irresistible charm and humour by Ruben Drole, baritone. With a warm and velvety timbre, he sings and talks in a most natural way, and when he’s supposed to be quiet, he hums and dances his way through “Non pui andrai”, just for the heck of it. Soprano Marie Arnet is a most graceful princess Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, who has been kidnapped by the sinister Sarastro. Her silvery and innocent timbre makes her most touching and convincing in her aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”. Oh, and we feel with her, and so does poor Tamino, who is not allowed to speak to her. The Queen of the Night is the other aspect of the feminine principle, the castrating mother. Soprano Olga Pudova incarnates her with authority and quite seductively. Her adversary and masculine counterpart, Sarastro, is the bass James Cresswell. A pity that he has to walk about on some kind of contraption to make him taller: it makes him look rather precarious instead of adding to his authority. Unnecessary as well, since this Sarastro has the right voice and tone, authoritarian and tender, as the case asks for. The Three Boys are children from the Maîtrise de la Perverie in Nantes, charming and touching, be they dressed as urchins of the 30s, in cooks’ hats or night shirts. The innocence and frailty of real children’s voices gives an additional spiritual dimension to the opera that is totally inexistent when sopranos take on these parts. And so, this simplified version of the work lets us enter freely into a magical world. Heard and seen as a simple fairy tale the story acquires an old-new sense, the symbols yield readily. And we leave, wondering: And if it were true? If life were just a voyage through fire and water and suffering, towards some higher goal? And if the material world were just a trick of the Ladies of the Queen of the Night? We leave with a tear in our smile and our eyes are open for the magic that is everywhere around us.