Die Zauberflöte - Felsenreitschule, 30 July 2012 (Salzburg Festival)
If you could sum up the Salzburg Festival in one word, it would be 'quality'. Ticket buyers stump up vast sums in the expectation they will hear the world's best musicians playing the greatest music ever written in immaculately conceived and presented performances. Leave the merely 'promising' to others.
So while there's nothing hugely wrong with this Magic Flute, its ordinariness comes as a disappointment. Staffed largely by new Intendant Alexander Pereira's old Zurich Opera cronies, it has all the bland efficiency of the Swiss rail network.
I admire Nikolaus Harnoncourt's breathless recording of Die Entführung, but he slowed the clock this time round. His period instrument Concentus Musicus Wien played efficiently, but dragging tempi and arbitrary pauses inhibited any real connection with the work. It seemed an empty and dehumanised experiment, like the constant note-taking of Sarastro's lab-coated initiates. Spoken lines, uncut and languidly enunciated, were even more interminable than usual.
Casting was not top drawer. The profoundly sonorous Georg Zeppenfeld is probably the best Sarastro south of Rene Pape, so no complaints on that score. The Three Boys, drawn from the Tölzer Knaben choir, were perfect in their wizened old man makeup.
The rest did the job without ever convincing they were the best choice for it. Bernard Richter sang Tamino more strongly than anyone else I've heard recently, though his presence doesn't register with the same force as his voice. Markus Werba's Papageno lapsed into declamatory barking too often for comfort and was frankly not as funny as someone with that many good lines should be. Rudolf Schasching as Monostatos preferred shouting to singing. The women were almost interchangeably anonymous.
How hard can it be to cast a Magic Flute? This bunch were more than adequate - in a fine choice for a Zurich Wiederaufnahme sort of a way. But with audiences travelling across the world and ticket prices for this show topping €400, Salzburg demands more.