A 3D Fairytale
Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' from Bologna
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
A few years ago, I reported on a London Royal Opera House and Rome Teatro dell'Opera production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Fairytale Atmposhere, 13 April 2012). That production, signed by well-known British stage director David McVicar, generally considered to be quite traditional, was very successful because the plot had been cleared of most philosophical and masonic elements and the dramaturgy focused on the coming to adulthood of a young couple.
Die Zauberflöte has a similar treatment in the Bologna Opera House staging which was premiered on 16 May and which I saw and heard on 17 May 2015. There is, however, an important difference. David McVicar is a very celebrated director who has won several awards for both opera and play productions. Also for his Zauberflöte he could rely on a large budget and international partners, as well as the expected royalties from television, movie and DVD sales. Instead, the Bologna production is entrusted to a young experimental group (Fanny & Alexander) at their first experience with opera and music theater at large. Also, the financial situation at Bologna is far from florid. Thus, they had to operate on a shoestring budget.
The basic idea of the stage director Luigi De Angelis, of the costume designer Chiara Lagani and of set and lighting designer Nicola Fagnani is to do away with traditional sets and costumes (and thus also to eliminate the frequent changes of place in the libretto — forests, palaces, temples, waterfalls, fires — and to use 3D projections instead. Of course, the audience must wear special glasses, similar to viewing a 3D movie. But the cost is rather economical and the effects are quite impressive, especially in the forest scenes when birds are seen flying in the theatre, trees and bushes appear here, there and everywhere and a dragon seems to reach from the stage to the orchestra front seats.
And the costumes? Sarastro is a stage director; thus the chorus is dressed like theatre personnel (from stagehands to valets). The principals have timeless attires, maybe from the theater's backstage storage department. Nonetheless, the whole thing works quite well. In Bologna and nearby towns, the word spread: all the performances are sold out and there is a search for subscribers' returned tickets.
A final comment on the staging. This Zauberflöte has no doubt many references to Ingmar Bergman's 1974 movie, as the plot is seen through the eyes of two children. It does not seem that Fanny & Alexander are familiar with Maurice Sendak's marvelous production, based on his own children's books, which opened in Houston in 1980 and has travelled through many continents for nearly thirty years.
Opera is, after all, mostly music. Conductor Michele Mariotti caressed the orchestra with a very light touch, to downplay all the references to masonic music and singing and, instead, to emphasize trust, love, friendship and growing up. Paolo Fanale and Maria Grazia Schiavo (Tamino and Pamina) both have a very wide register, especially Fanale, extremely lyric in Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön in the first act, and almost a baritone in his duet with Pamina, Wir wandelten durch Feuergluten in the second part. Nicola Ulivieri is a very good Papageno.
As the Queen of the Night, Christina Poulitsi shows her coloratura skills. Mika Kares is an imposing Sarastro. In a small part, but with an excellent voice, Simone Casolari is the 'first priest'.
A very successful production.