Mozart and lederhosen
A Bavarian Magic Flute, reviewed by TESS CREBBIN
Let's face it: there is something fascinating about Bavaria and foreigners cannot seem to get enough of it. In the United States, for instance, people travel hundreds of miles to attend local versions of the 'Octoberfest', complete with brass band and Humpa music. They have just started exporting a proper Hofbrauhaus to the United States, and summer in Bavaria is quite a sight when you encounter tourists from every part of the world hiking through the Alps here while proudly displaying their brand-new 'Dirndls', the traditional Bavarian folk dress.
Bavaria has tradition, that's for sure, and that tradition is usually associated with Lederhosen, some strange folk dance called 'schuplattler' that involves the dancers hitting themselves on the knees, and of course, with beer, brezeln and the famous weisswurst which is a cream-colored veal sausage that, for whatever reason, should not be consumed after midday. Then there is the famous 'Gemütlichkeit', the typical Bavarian 'take it easy and let the world pass on by' attitude that means people in Bavaria are usually not quick to get upset over anything except their beer not being cold enough. So what exactly happens when you export these Bavarian traits into the world of classical music and throw them at one of Mozart's finest operas, The Magic Flute, on stage in Munich, the capital of Bavaria?
Imagine a Papageno in Lederhosen, enjoying a hearty mid-opera meal of genuine weisswurst with senf, but who also happens to be the award-winning opera singer Wolfgang Würsching. Or the world-class coloratura soprano voice of Elke Slawitschek, a Königin der Nacht who dramatically towers over, and overpowers, the mountain scenery of the Bavarian Alps on the stage of the Munich Gasteig venue. Or a Pagagena like Elisabeth Artmeier who decided to give up a successful career for her children and every once in a while returns to the opera stage to delight with her impeccable voice and dramatic talent -- as she did in this year's acclaimed production of Mozart's Magic Flute by the Bavarian Free Country Theatre (Freies Landestheater Bayern). Then throw in a Pamina like Saskia Steinfeld who is trained as a ballet dancer and charms her audiences with a girl-like presence and grace, but also offers a lyric soprano voice that takes you deep into the core of heartbreak. These are just some of the ingredients that made up an unforgettable operatic experience on 19 November 2004 in Munich when the Magic Flute was performed there by the BFCT as part of its German tour. Quite frankly, you have never seen a Magic Flute like that before, nor are you likely to do so again. Boosting with Bavarian charm, it was truly magical!
Wolfgang Wirsching as Papageno. Photo © Anne Kirchbach
There was also an interesting traditional Bavarian Lederhosen Schuhplattler Dance performed by the Boys from the Underworld. Not to mention the great costumes of the Queen of the Night and her madams -- blue and starry, they were quite a sight! But Papageno was the man who had all the fun -- he does, after all, get to eat the famous Bavarian weisswurst on stage -- interesting here to note for gourmets that he actually physically eats two of these sausages as part of the performance and could be observed spreading what we are told is the best brand of German mustard, Händlmeier, onto the blessed Bavarian national food items before he gobbled them down. Then he downs a whole pint of beer -- alcohol-free, one must add, otherwise the very valid question would arise how precisely he manages to negotiate his arias with so much beer inside. But the man cannot just eat and drink, he is also a very good singer and so Papageno was oozing charm through every note that he sang and had audiences laughing with delight. In fact, so delighted were they that clapping could hardly be kept down several times in mid-performance, especially following the famous duet between Papageno and Papagena. This particularly fine singing left opera fans to lament the fact that Elisabeth Artmeier chose to abandon what would have no doubt become a very successful career in preference to marriage, children, home and hearth. Probably because of this, she is able to bring across the home-loving, husband-comfort-providing Papagena so very believably.
Copyright © 14 December 2004
Tess Crebbin, Germany