Sunday, April 7, 2013

Die Zauberflöte off to a new start with the Berliner Philharmoniker

 "[This] piece," said Simon Rattle about Die Zauberflöte, "is a conductor's graveyard." He went on to indicate that he had avoided it for reasons of "self-preservation," until an irresistible opportunity came about: incredible as it sounds, this run of performances was the first time this iconic opera has been performed live in the history of the Berliner Philharmoniker. A live concert performance of the opera was transmitted over the Digital Concert Hall.

Rattle always makes one hear familiar music in new ways. There were many gestures that he stamped as fresh and engaging. Right from the start, each of the three fanfares was played with the third articulation in echo tone, almost like a reverberation of the two articulations before it. But more importantly there was a flow within the work, in and out of the spoken dialog, that had an appealing sense of shape and structure.

The sound of the orchestra was edged and very present, and it made one aware of the particular colors that are used to shade and often connect non-adjacent moments within this opera. The singers inhabited the space between the back of the orchestra and the chorus and they were able to suggest a staging even with the limited means they had at their disposal.

Words are significant in this opera. This production placed subtitles on the screen in an interesting way. The text stretched across the entire screen in German with a smaller italicized English translation underneath it. We were able to anticipate the German text almost as if reading a score, and the German text made the care given to diction in this performance apparent. I wish Met-Live-in-HD occasionally used this style of subtitles.

Kate Royal was Pamina in this Zauberflöte
The cast was well-chosen. Particularly impressive was soprano Kate Royal as Pamina. She was able to develop shades in Pamina's elusive character across the arias and spoken lines that the role contains. In her act II aria "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden," one could feel her focus the collective energy of the hall and even of cyberspace as she shaped piercing vocal leaps and etched coloratura in a glowing G minor. I also liked soprano Ana Durlovski as the Queen of the Night. She was able to land and project the almost always overlooked lowest notes of this part known for its high side.

Balances in the ensembles were also quite good in this performance. One could hear each part in the ensemble of three boys with rare clarity. The spike in applause they received at the curtain was well earned.

It is a pleasure to hear the Berliner Philharmoniker play concert opera. One can only hope for more.

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