Die Zauberflöte - Semperoper Dresden, 1 March 2013
Imagine genetically-modified Teletubbies frolicking in a giant children's colouring -book, and you've got Achim Freyer's Dresden Zauberflöte, revived for what must be about the 100th time. Originally seen at the Schwetzinger Festspiele, it's the designer/director's third production of the opera closest to his heart, though you'd be hard-pushed to find much difference between each one.
Superficially, it's a Magic Flute from a child's perspective (I was surprised to see none in the audience). But Freyer throws in enough adult references to keep the grown-ups entertained too. During the overture, the Three Boys roll dice and do blackboard sums to remind us of the importance of numbers in the opera. Masonic trowels provide another reference point. The audience guffawed whenever Papageno sang of his longing for Papagena - a scarlet duck's head pops out from the fly of his oversized dungarees.
Paradoxically, the extreme anti-naturalism of clown makeup and exaggerated gesturing draws in rather than distances. For once, the alternation between human and enchanted realms is visually fluent, so the dramatic breaks are barely apparent. Those who imagine Die Zauberflöte to be some sort of proto-psychodrama along the lines of Così fan tutte will snort when they look at the photos, but, like the best cartoons, Freyer's approach is emotionally engaging because of the consistency of the world he creates rather than its resemblance to real life.
Consistency and fluency were the hallmarks of Stefan Klingele's conducting too, proving lightness and transparency are feasible without resort to dubious 'period' practices. Halfway through the annual 20-ish show run, the Staatskapelle Dresden have an easy familiarity with every note, and played immaculately.
The singers, drawn mostly from the excellent Dresden ensemble, largely lived up to the production. Moritz Gogg made an entertaining if slightly underpowered Papageno. Rainer Trost's touching sad-Pierrot Tamino was the pick of the guests. Anna Siminska, drafted in to play the Queen of the Night, got the loudest cheers from the audience. Impressive at the very top, she hit the rest of her notes with varying accuracy, easy volume and a degree of stridency that suggested her voice has outgrown the role.
If you're thinking of catching this on your visit to Dresden, be aware that the cast changes each run, and there are no surtitles, not even in German.
Official photo gallery.
Curtain call photos to follow.....