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May mixed magic find the Force

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DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE
STAGE DIRECTOR: Kobie van Rensburg. Assistants: Tinus Spies and Gerrit Scheepers
CONDUCTOR: Willem Vogel, with the Salon Ensemble
CAST: Arthur Swan, Linelle Wimbles, Ilze Coetzee, Kabelo Lebyana, Barend van der Westhuizen, Marina Botha, Tinus Spies
VENUE: Brooklyn Theatre, cnr Thomas Edison and 13th streets, Menlo Park, Pretoria
RUN: January 15, 17, 22 and 24 at 8pm; January 19 at 3 pm
RATING: ***
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes, including interval

 

Mozart’s final operatic masterpiece has attracted notable artists in a long line of stagings, including Chagall, Hockney, Kokoschka, Sendak and our own William Kentridge.

Many top-flight directors brought their individual concepts on how to enliven the fantasy and dream world created by Mozart and his fellow Freemason and librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, when staging it. However, some experienced a rude awakening when realising what kind of challenges faced them. Opera is about a continuous exploring of many possibilities: dramatic, musical and visual.

To start with the latter element: Salon Music’s Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a high-tech pro- duction, with moving images a prime driving force. George Lucas’ Star Wars movies were both a direct influence and inspiration for this German-conceived production staged in Munster where the South African singer and director Kobie van Rensburg received accolades for this adaptation. It speaks to fans who are in awe of Lucas’s work.

One immediately recognises the Star Wars landscape. Many characters, including R2-D2, make their appearance. One can imagine how appealing this could be to young(er) audiences who, alas, were not strongly represented during Sunday afternoon’s performance.

Older conservative or tradi- tionally bound ones will have to make a thorough mindshift to avoid cultural backlashes, but one often wondered what Mozart himself would have made of this. He might just have had a ball.

Even right in the beginning when the three women appear, we are engulfed in the latterday social media obsessions. During the trio’s social interaction with Tamino (Arthur Swan) comments and photos are immediately posted on “Spacebook”. One is impressed by the way electronic images enhance the metaphysical dynamics of Zauberflöte, though the pantomime-like staging in a few scenes disturb at times the basic fairy-tale ambience.

Musically, Mozart’s magnificent orchestral effects and colourings are slimmed down to an ensemble of seven instrumentalists – a process that is a Salon Music trademark, but can never stand in for or sound like the real thing. Once again, it comes down to a lack of funding.

Nevertheless, the mostly quality casting of singers does compensate wholeheartedly. This is by far the most professional team Salon Music has put on stage since starting this process nearly two decades ago. And above all: this production is not truncated.

It sounded as if a few choruses were prerecorded. They do blend in well (if slightly artificially) with the ensemble placed in front of the stage.

Swan’s Tamino and Linelle Wimbles’ Pamina are vocally the bright stars in this universe of optical trickery. Both of them demonstrate on stylistic levels vocal artistry which is warm, personable, but they also mostly reflected a fresh-toned purity which was in line with modern Mozart singing.

Ilze Coetzee’s Queen of the Night could have benefited from some killer coloratura. Her first aria lost focus and solid intonation, but she made up for it with a much better, if not flawless, performance of her second one.

In his spoken dialogue, Barend van der Westhuizen really was quirky and sometimes too down to earth with die taal (meaning Afrikaans). As Papageno he can carry it with his acting abilities, but his singing is even more attractive, with a warm voice deployment and inventive characterisation.

His charming Papagena, Marina Botha, is also a gutsy singer, but the tempo fluctuations in their duet were erratic in places and disturbed an even flow. After their “strip” down to leotards one was strangely taken back to Caveman country.

The vocal ensembles – three women and three boys sung by girls – were charming, while the other leads, Kabelo Lebyana (Sarastro) and Tinus Spies (Monastatos), were not always on top form. The musicians, led ably by Willem Vogel, did their best to revive, even if only partly so, Mozart’s magic.

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