Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

WORKS: Die Zauberflöte
PERFORMER: Julia Kleiter, Elena Mosuc, Christoph Strehl, Ruben Drole, Matti Salminen; Zurich Chorus & Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Martin Ku≥ej
This is a perverse affair, in almost every way. In the long documentary about the performance Nikolaus Harnoncourt insists that the producer does what he tells him to, and I believe it. In the booklet Harnoncourt states that Tamino is an anti-hero, and that is how he is played, and up to a point sung, by Christoph Strehl. Bizarre though the libretto is, Tamino and Pamina are clearly meant to be a pair aspiring to be worthy of membership of an exalted Order. Here, after their trials of Fire and Water (the second in a video projected on the uniformly white setting, with the pair seen in a car under water, Pamina calm, Tamino panicking), they are wheeled in on trolleys by paramedics and then lie on the floor, while the chorus of celebration is appropriately muted. The two Armed Men are cigarette-smoking spivs in white suits, and so on and so on. The set is a tirelessly moving maze; it’s astonishing that the performers don’t lose their way. Some of the singing is fine, with Matti Salminen as Sarastro as sonorous as he has been for decades, and Elena Mosuc a deadly accurate Queen of Night. Ruben Drole makes a slightly less charming Papageno than he thinks, but sings well. Julia Kleiter is a squally Pamina, and has to sing her great aria at a much faster tempo than I find tolerable. It is Harnoncourt’s conducting which decisively undermines the performance, mostly absurdly slow, occasionally the reverse of that. This is the only time I haven’t been moved by one moment in this sublime work.