William Kentridge’s La Scala production of Die Zauberflöte is mainly notable for its use of black and white projections. The intention, apparently, is to tell the story as seen by, or even as seen inside, a Victorian camera. In places this works rather well but at times it’s quite hard to figure out what is actually going on. Whether it was that hard to read in the theatre I can’t say. Video recording projections is really hard and i have a lot of sympathy with Patrizia Carmine who video-directed here. The film of a play of a film thing is really difficult to capture remotely faithfully.
The other dynamic in this production is supposed to be about Victorian era colonialism. Apart from Monostatos being vaguely Turkish I really didn’t get this. It also leads to all the characters including Papageno being dressed as drably as possible. The famous Papageno/Monostatos duet really becomes quite ludicrous because neither of them is remotely exotic. By contrast the Monostatos/Pamina dynamic actually works quite well because it’s not absolutely grotesque. For the record the whole racism and misogyny thing is left intact and there’s no suggestion of irony.
The singing generally is pretty good. Genia Kühmeier is as attractive here as she is on the Salzburg recording. Saimir Pirgu is a stylish and idiomatic Tamino. Günther Groissböck is solid as Sarastro (but he isn’t René Pape). Albina Shagimuratova is accurate and dramatic as the Königin but maybe a little strident. Alex Esposito is OK but rather dull, as Papageno but I think that’s the production. Orchestra, chorus and Roland Böer, the conductor, are fine but unremarkable.
Technically it’s 2012 DVD quality with a decent picture and perfectly acceptable DTS surround sound (stereophiles be warned, the stereo track is Dolby not LPCM). Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. There are some short interviews offered as a bonus. The booklet contains an essay and a synopsis but no track listing.
In summary, there’s not much wrong with this recording but there are lots of recordings of Die Zauberflöte out there and this one doesn’t really stand out. My preference remains either the 2006 Salzburg recording or the rather darker 2003 ROH version. ETA: There’s also the Carsen version from Baden-Baden. It may not be the best introduction to the piece but it’s a fsacinating production and musically very strong.