Photo: Elisa Haberer
In spite of its somewhat muddled libretto, Mozart’s Magic Flute is one of the public’s most beloved operas. Unsurprisingly so: its universal message is all in the music. For this 2014 co-production with Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Robert Carsen goes beyond the free-masonry symbolism and uses symbols out of modern psychology. Thus, the sets imagined by Michael Levine are simple, sober and effective: in the background, the video projection of a birch forest through the seasons reminds us that the opera deals with nature, human nature. On the stage, three open graves that don’t need a translation and when Tamino enters the stage by climbing out of one of them, we immediately understand that he just has been born out of death, life and death being but one. Logically, a tomb represents the temple of trials in Act II, with coffins lying on the ground. Petra Reinhardt’s costumes enhance the staging’s clarity: a simple white suit for Tamino, a simple white dress for Pamina, both are barefoot – innocence, aspiration to the light. Just as simply, the priests, and also the Queen of the Night and her ladies are in black. Only Papageno and later on Papageno are different: no feathers for these bird people – rucksack, sleeping-bag, the joyous hobo’s outfit illustrate a love for freedom, non conformism, life close to the elements… in short the earthier aspects of human nature. The apparition of the three boys wearing in turn a mini version of the others’ costumes is a stroke of genius, because thus they link all the different characters and we intuitively understand that they are but different aspects of the human soul: Tamino and Pamina our spiritual side, that part of us that wants to grow to the light; Papageno and Papageno incarnate the body and its needs for food and sex and procreation. Sarastro and the Queen of the Night are representing the exterior forces that guide us. The concepts of good and evil are intertwined here, like Yin and Yang. Thus, the contradictions in the libretto, those characters that are first good and later evil, stop bothering us, and everything falls into place. The message of this double symbolism becomes quite clear now: we have to look our fears, our ghosts and our demons in the face in order to overcome them and find true freedom. Musically speaking however, the show is a bit of a let-down: a lovely cast, beautiful voices, Constantin Trinks conducts impeccably and attentively – and yet the sacred fire is missing, which makes a show a magical moment in the here and now. Jacquelyn Wagner’s Pamina is adorable in her innocence, and her rich and generous voice a joy to hear. Mauro Peter, with a warm and natural tenor voice, plays a somewhat naïf Tamino, especially next to Edwin Crossley-Mercer’s Papageno, who is street-wise and a charming rascal. Crossley-Mercer inhabits his character with spirit and abandon, and with Elisabeth Schwarz as Papagena, the couple is witty and charming. The duo Pamina – Papageno in Act I remains academic however; the same goes for Tamino’s aria and even the Queen of the Night’s (Jane Archibald) “O Zittre nicht”. Real emotions only come up as the three boys appear. They are adorable, the three soloists of the Aurelius Sängerknaben and they master their stage movements like real pros. Ante Jerkunica, with his velvety bass, is a dignified and kindly Sarastro. At long last however, with Pamina’s aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”, we also begin to feel the protagonists’ emotions, and the encounter Pamina – Tamino “Tamino mein, o welch ein Glück!” – “Pamina mein…” brings goose bumps. From this moment, the representation takes on momentum: the fire that Tamino and Pamina have to go through takes over the show, and the applause and bravos in the end are directed at a team that has come together.