The 2018 Salzburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte really pushes the envelope of reenvisioning the piece. Is there anything to say about this piece that hasn’t already been said? Lydia Steier thinks so and goes some considerable way tp making her point. So what’s the big idea here? Essentially the kicking off points are that it’s about (in a sense) a dysfunctional family and it’s a fairy tale. So we open on the dining room of a rather depressing bourgeois Austrian family in the mid 1930s sitting down to dinner. There’s the mother, the father, the grandfather and three boys; all rather formally dressed. A portrait of a bride hangs behind the table. The father has a hissy fit and storms out. The mother, who appears to drink, starts breaking things. The grandfather takes the boys off to the nursery to read them a bedtime story.
Rimsky Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan doesn’t get a lot of performances outside Russia and there’s only one video recording in the catalogue. It was recorded in 2015 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 2015 and is now available as a dual format DVD/Blu-ray package. It’s a curious work. It’s based on a Russian folk tale based poem by Pushkin turned into an opera libretto in a prologue and four acts by Vladimir Belsky. It’s quite odd in that much of it is in a simple strophic form similar to the “wedding song” that Mandryka sings in Strauss’ Arabella. I have no idea if this is typical of Slavic folk song but it’s a bit repetitive especially when coupled to Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourful but not especially interesting music. The music is actually rather better in the orchestral interludes, notably the famous Flight of the Bumblebee and some of the choruses which are grand in the Russian manner.
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.