Mozart’s Zauberflöte – The Next Generation

Jasper van Hofwegen as Papageno. Photo by Joris van Bennekom

There is an expression in English, and no doubt a matching one in Dutch, which says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute if you prefer, could hardly be described as broken or needing maintenance but Theateralliantie and co-producers Opera2Day, while not claiming to fix it, present a version by, and I guess for, The Next Generation.

Die Zauberflöte is in the form of a Songspiel, the precursor of the modern musical, whereby the story is told in spoken word with songs to drive the narrative along. Theateralliantie, along with Opera2Day, have chosen to translate, and adapt, the whole caboodle into Dutch. They have brought out the comedy and introduced current political issues. And does it work? Yes it does, and very well.

And not only does the rewriting work, but visually it is also a great success. The story is a bit convoluted and whimsical but the gist is that Tamino and his sidekick Papageno set off on an adventure to rescue Pamina who has been kidnapped by the wicked Sarastro. They are given special powers, enhanced by magical musical instruments, and aided by spirits (of the ethereal, not liquid type) supplied by the Queen of the Night. We follow their trials and tribulations and discover that, as usual, love and right conquers all. The whole thing takes place in some dystopian military dictatorship.

The prologue gives us a foretaste of what to expect. We meet a Trump-like character being rushed to hospital and the struggle between four black-clad ladies, who I guess are there to assassinate him and seize power, confronted by pistol-brandishing, arm-banded thugs.

When the front-cloth rises on the opera proper we find ourselves in a beautiful landscape with Tamino being surprised by the serpent which emerges from his trouser flies. In fact, there are quite a few genitalian jokes throughout and Sarastro’s insignia is a phallus set in what appears to be an Aston Martin emblem. The comedy continues with the arrival of Papageno who, instead of the usual pan pipes, uses a kazoo for the musical responses in Der Vogelfänger Bin Ich Ja. In fact, Jasper van Hofwegen’s slovenly, pot-bellied, mulletted, beer-swilling Papageno is almost a show stealer. There is another moment, when playing/miming his magic chimes, he asks the conductor if he is managing to keep up.

Visually the show is spectacular with Bernhard Hammer’s décor perfectly matching and often creating the mood. There are a lot of fantastic and very clever projections by Arjen Klerkz  – the moment when Tamino plays his magic flute and the forest comes alive was brilliant.

Performancewise the cast gelled well. Roam Brasser and Sofia Ferri made an attractive very young couple but the singing awards must go to Svenja Gabler whose technically challenging aria as Queen of the Night was a show-stopper. Huub Claessens’ Sarastro provides a mighty presence with voice to match.

The small, and very young Grammy-winning Ludwig Ensemble played flawlessly in the pit, with the glockenspiel player usually managing to keep up with Papageno.

Director Theu Boermans and his team, who previously created the large-scale successful production Amadeus four years ago, once again have demonstrated that Theateralliantie/Opera2Day are forces to be reckoned with; companies that that takes risks and have the ability to deliver their visions in a spectacular manner. It should be said that Die Zauberflöte is entirely in Dutch without, unusually, surtitles. But if I was able to follow it, you will be.     Michael Hasted at Amare in The Hague  11th June 2003