The Magic Flute
Maximilian Schmitt, Christina Landshamer, Thomas Oliemans, Nina Lejderman, Brindley Sherratt, Íride Martínez; Soloists of the Knabenchor der Chorakademie Dortmund; Chorus of Dutch National Opera; Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Marc Albrecht; dir. Simon McBurney (Netherlands, 2014)
Opus Arte DVD: OA 1122D; Blu-ray: OABD 7133D
Freshness of vision, emotional openness, genuine ensemble theatricality, a robustly physical sense of adventure humorous and serious (but never portentous) by turns, and an underlying directorial trust in Mozart’s music: these qualities stay with me most strongly after two viewings of this DVD, among the most rewarding experiences of the opera I’ve had in nearly five decades of Magic Flute encounters.
The film, brilliantly directed by Misjel Vermeulen, comes live from Amsterdam’s Muziektheater, where in 2011 Simon McBurney’s production first had its enormous popular and critical success (neither repeated in 2013, interestingly, when ENO brought the show to London). For home viewing it works particularly well in holding spectators spellbound on the music-drama while communicating the inimitable McBurney theatrical mixture of simplicity and potent fantasy. On an open stage, bare except for a mobile platform, a splendidly like-minded cast and chorus unfold a scenario at once timeless and contemporary, irradiated by the penny-plain magic – with video imagery, mime and athletic knockabout – created by director, designers and a troupe of actor-comprimarios.
This Flute embodies a real, believable journey at once physical and spiritual for Tamino, Pamina and Papageno. Some aspects may be controversial (Sarastro and priests creepy in suits and ties, a wheelchair-bound Queen and punk-dressed ladies, Monostatos a white gangland thug), yet no directorial element seems part of a straitjacketing concept. It helps enormously that the fleet-footed musical execution under Marc Albrecht, Netherlands Opera’s music director, is of exactly matching freshness, with a strong cast led by two superb young German Mozartians, the tenor Maximilian Schmitt and soprano Christina Landshamer, and a Dutch baritone, Thomas Oliemans, among the most completely equipped Papagenos in recent times.
No Flute realisation tells the work’s whole story. Other available DVDs emphasise underlying philosophical concepts, offer visual richness, provide moments of meditative stillness missing here. Taken on its own terms, though, this one gives delight from start to finish.