Magic Flute by Castellucci @ Brussels

The season at the Munt opened with Mozart’s Magic Flute. A season which, for a change, includes two 19th century Italian staged opera’s which are neither Verdi nor Puccini and has a mere 30% of contemporary operas. Unfortunately, Meyerbeer’s grand opera is not staged (though we are still waiting for the coproduced-but-never-staged Muette de Portici, or a re-staging of the wonderful Py/Minkowsky Huguenots with a excellent 2nd cast headed by John Osborn).

Magic flute, then, a very traditional title, directed by an unconventional director. Magic flute is one opera, which, in my opinion, HAS to be re-interpreted. The sun against the darkness, Pamino in search of Pamina, Monostatos, are the symbols of the progressive/active patriarchy against the evil/passive matriarchy, the manipulation of the natural for its own good, with a hint of racism and misogyny. An odious text, which got an enlightening new vest in last year’s Gent production by David Herman. On another planet we are with Castelluci’s view on the subject. While the overture stands for the darkness (all in black, a neon tube light is shattered etc), Act I is all in white. And when I say all, I mean everything. The people, the clothing, the shoes, the background, the props, the floor, everything. All singers and all dancers act with small and slow movements. The singers have doubles, which mirror their movements and even lip sync, the dancers behind them dance slowly, creating intertwined choreographic forms which are enhanced by the use of feathers and of slowly rotating platforms. No spoken dialogue, just one musical piece after the other. At the end of act one bizarre shapes (architectural forms designed by algorithms by Swiss architect Michael Hansmeyer) move together with the singers, dancers and the doubles creating a huge, white, barock cathedral.

Act two is totally different in that the setting has contemporary features. It starts with eerie music while pregnant women pump their milk from both breasts. I was too busy looking at the technicality of the process to read the text projected above them so i missed the philosophical point. However, with these ladies the mother figure started to get its recognition (the Mother/Queen of the night was also the only figure which was not doubled). The setting was not white anymore but all-beige, the floor, a separating wall, the clothes even the hair. The music starts, but while Act I was played without text, in act two newly created text is interposed into the musical pieces and recited. First by five women, later by five men. The women, one by one, tell us, within 1 minute each, about the moment they became blind, who at a small age, who suddenly while on a plane etc. They tell about the world they see, a world made of shadows and darkness. The men on the other hand tell about the moment in their lives when their skin was burnt, who through scalding oil, who through fire, an explosion etc, a world made of desperation, scarring skin and the moment of “too much light”. Latest by then it becomes clear that Castellucci opposes the moment of lights to those of shadows and pulls a parallel to the darkness and light of the Queen and Sarastro.

Castellucci certainly finds a way to make us think and breaks with conventions, but the message is so overwhelming that the music and the libretto lose all connection with their creators. The orchestra, which includes 18th century brass and timpani, has not much life, I heard Manacorda direct much better. None of the singers have any particular flaws but none are really memorable or touched me in any way.

Muzikale Leiding-Antonello Manacorda, Regie, Decor, Kostuums, Belichting-Romeo Castellucci, Choreografie-Cindy Van Acker, Algoritmische Architectuur-Michael Hansmeyer, Artistieke Medewerking-Silvia Costa, Dramaturgie-Piersandra Di Matteo, Antonio Cuenca Ruiz, Koorleider-Martino Faggiani, Sarastro-Tijl Faveyts, Tamino -Reinoud Van Mechelen, Sprecher-Dietrich Henschel , Königin Der Nacht-Jodie Devos, Pamina-Ilse Eerens , Erste Dame-Tineke Van Ingelgem, Zweite Dame-Angélique Noldus, Dritte Dame-Esther Kuiper, Papageno-Georg Nigl, Papagena-Elena Galitskaya, Monostatos/Ein Mohr-Elmar Gilbertsson, Erster Priester/Zweiter Geharnischter Mann- Guillaume Antoine, Zweiter Priester / Erster Geharnischter Mann-Yves Saelens, 20/09/18, pictures from movie-stills published on demunt.be

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Lucio Silla @ Brussels

Mozart was 16 when he composed Lucio Silla but it remained the last opera he wrote for Italy for after the opera premiered during the Carneval season of 1773, the Regio Ducal Teatro (for whom Mozart wrote Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba) did not commission any more operas to Mozart. The opera has no easy or proper plot, which is not uncommon in operas of that period. Although the librettist Giovanni de Gamerra went on to play a small role in the development of what was to become romantic opera, the characters in Lucio Silla are very static. Mozart composed a varied palette of music, some conventional pieces, others remarkably deep, using some new and elaborate forms, a considerable amout of recitativi accompagnati-a more dramatic form than the recitativo secco-and expanding the orchestra with trumpets, giving the orchestra more elaborate writings then relegate it to a standard accompaniment. Recitivi were written when still in Salzburg while the arias were composed tailormaid to the strengths of the singers. They all turned up in Milan between end of November and beginning of December 1772. The first Cecilio was the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, while the first Giunia was Anna de Amicis, equally famous. De Amicis “was very satisfied with the arias, and Mozart introduced in them passages which are very unusual, unique and extremely difficult and which she sings amazingly well…” father Mozart reported, who was in Milan with his son. Giunia and Cecilio each sing in 7 pieces. And Mozart gives them a wonderful duet to close Act I. Lucio Silla himself sings only in 3 pieces, which is either due to his text written to be conveyed dramatically by the recitativo or by the fact that the originally intended star had to be replaced last minute with a lesser known singer, or both. The new tenor arrived December 17th and the next day Mozart had composed the two arias for him. Cinna has also only 3 arias but has the privilege to sing the first, while Celia’s role lightens the atmosphere, seen that she is not included in the political plot. The full orchestra rehearsals were done the 18, 20 and 22 December, the dress rehearsal the 23rd and the opera was performed the 26th and run for 26 performance, a considerable amount. Mozart was pleased with both Anna de Amicis and Venanzio Rauzzini, and for the latter, around the 15th January, he composed the famous motet Exultate, jubilate.

The director sets the story in modern days and when the curtain rises, one sees a modern house (which later revolves) and tress around it, very much like in Pizzi’s Pietra del paragone, but less stylish. But the plot is quite thin, the da capo arias very long and Tobias Kratzer really only asks for very conventional movements (except for much cutting of veins and a dog running around) and the little action on stage starts boring very soon. The orchestra played the ouverture swiftly and nervously (maybe a bit too nervously?) but Manacorda directed and accompanied very well. I thought Jeremy Ovenden was just acceptable. His lower register weak, his interpretation extremely thin. Much better Lenneke Ruiten. Her role has extreme demands and she manages well with a beautiful and bright top register. In one of the most difficult arias ever written Ah se il crudel periglio she convinces much less (drops a note every now and then to breath). Anna Bonitatinus gave a lovely recital of Rossini songs a couple of weeks back. A forgotten repertoire that she rendered beautifully. But her Cecilio was not as convincing. Her tight vibrato is a bit unpleasant and it seems to me Cecilio is a size too big for her. Her 2nd entrance aria was sung with much transport and fury and was a joy to hear, as was her last aria, but there are constant struggles with pitch. Marvellous Simona Saturova as Celia. She sings  her four arias wonderfully and with great taste. I had big hopes for the opening aria but i had to wait for Ilse Eerens to sing her other two arias which allows her to show her bravura. I like her beatiful timbre and clear top notes. Good also Carlo Allemano but untidy roulades.

Conductor-Antonello Manacorda, Director-Tobias Kratzer, Set And Costume Design-Rainer Sellmaier, Lighting-Reinhard Traub, Video–Manuel Braun, Dramaturgy-Krystian Lada, Lucio Silla-Jeremy Ovenden, Giunia-Lenneke Ruiten, Cecilio-Anna Bonitatibus, Celia-Simona Šaturová, Cinna-Ilse Eerens, Aufidio-Carlo Allemano. 7/11/17, pictures by  www.demunt.be