(Previous section here.)
I said earlier that Drole’s Papageno seems to belong in this production, in the sense that the performance and the characterization are distinct and interesting but also contribute in an interesting way to the whole. The same is true of Julia Kleiter’s Pamina.
Kleiter spends a lot of time looking bewildered and annoyed – over and over, one realizes that this character must be thinking “why on earth is all this weird shit happening to me?” Kleiter’s interpretation of this role is less “luminous human daughter of magical forces” and more “modern young woman caught up in slightly bizarre dream narrative.” It fits very neatly with the tone of the production. I appreciated how well her performance contributed to the general concept more than any particular specifics of what she did with the music. She sounded very pretty, but her voice didn’t grab me the way Drole’s did.
One question that is probably key to any interpretation of this opera is how to handle Sarastro. Taken straight, Sarastro is kind of a condescending prick. I’m not sure what to make of how the character is handled here. Matti Salminen looks and sounds imposing and bear-like, and seems to be playing it fairly straightforwardly, although we get a hint in Act II that Sarastro’s intentions toward Pamina may not be entirely avuncular – although this is nothing more than a hint. He seems to have an odd effect on the women in his retinue. In one choral scene, where all the initiates enter in modern evening clothes, several of the women have wrapped woolly blankets over their clothes, and others stand rubbing their bare arms, looking cold. We get the theme of cold repeated when, after Monostatos attempts to kiss the sleeping Pamina, the door of the fridge – there’s a fridge – bursts open and the Queen of the Night (Elena Mosuc, who is icily precise and quite creepy in this role) explodes into the room in a gust of frosty air. She takes her leave through the same door later in the scene.
One thing that I thought was striking was in the scene where Tamino and Papageno are undergoing their “you must not speak to women” trial of silence. There is a row of lockers in this scene, covered in pinups of half-naked women; the three ladies enter via these lockers, and while Tamino is reminding Papageno not to speak to them, he is very cheerfully feeling one of them up. Groping is a-ok; talking is not. The whole scene suggests that Sarastro’s trial is focused around seeing women as things to ogle, but not people to speak/interact with. And – a bit more weird – in Act I when Tamino meets the Queen of the Night, the scene ends with them enthusiastically rolling about together on the floor. Not sure what to make of this. It just seems to be a thing that happens rather than something that affects the structure of the story. Again, the whole thing is rather dream-like. Given how the beginning and the very end are staged, perhaps the entire opera is a playing out of Tamino’s ambivalence about getting married? Or his ambivalence and conflicted ideas about women in general? (I kid. Mostly. In fact, now that I think about it, this version of the opera seems to push the “this is an opera about men thinking about women” angle of the story. I mean, it’s not like these issues are foreign to the opera even when traditionally staged. Talking/listening to women are fraught issues; everyone has a different plan for Pamina; love for men is presented as being “given” an appropriate woman, whether a princess or a bird-lady. There’s plenty in the opera to undercut or complicate all this, of course, but it’s hard to miss.)
But in general the strangeness of this production works. And at times, the strangeness caused me to hear the music in a way that I hadn’t before – for example in the two priests’ “Bewahret euch vor Weibertüchen” duet in Act II, the two singers are wearing leather jackets and doing air guitar with flashlights, and there’s something about how they sing it that caused me to hear some patterns in the orchestral music that I never heard before. In general I get a sense from this production that I am being told not to try to process this opera as a coherent narrative. Rather, it’s a series of images and moods that are held together by kind of a story, but kind of not a story, that takes place in – a place, and ends in a way that makes you wonder if it all happened in the blink of an eye, or if it never happened at all.