Die Zauberflöte, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York

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William Kentridge’s production of Die Zauberflöte, created in 2005 for La Monnaie in Brussels and transported on Monday to the Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, is a magical picture-show. The South African artist has reinterpreted Mozart’s Singspiel as a bold and busy panorama of projections in black and white. Pseudo-primitive lines and squiggles, beguiling animations and fluid symbols flash across a mock-Baroque stage in time to the music and in tandem with the text. The folksy result is always beautiful, often witty, at times annoying.

No room here for tradition, no patience for clichés. Forget sentimental ritual, religious pomp and elevated pathos. For his leitmotif, Kentridge chooses a versatile prop: an antique camera. On several levels it analyses morality within a turn- of-the-last-century milieu. The men in quest of enlightenment are not priests, just scholars in waistcoats. Papageno is no bird- man, just a mildly funny low- brow. Monostatos is not black. The Queen of the Night is not otherworldly. Everything is life-size, or smaller. An occasional detail jolts the senses. While Sarastro sings of peace and serenity within his holy halls, Kentridge screens some horrific safari footage that depicts the killing of a rhino. The contradiction defies explanation.

The musical perspective, predicated on intimacy, matched the visual concept. Piers Maxim sustained jaunty, almost reckless speeds in the pit, and allowed his merry band to make lusty noises – including sound effects and extracurricular riffs during the generous dialogue passages. When the great trio, “Soll ich dich, Teurer, nicht mehr sehn?”, went awry, the no-nonsense conductor simply stopped the music and started again from the top. It was the right move.

The little-known cast, more notable for youthful energy than for stellar vocalism, supported ensemble values. Jeremy Ovenden’s earnest Tamino was nicely paired with the sensitive Pamina of Sophie Karthäuser. Stephan Loges bumbled pleasantly as Papageno. Milagros Pablador squeaked the top Fs of the nocturnal Queen bravely. Kaiser N’Kosi grumbled stiffly and darkly as Sarastro. No one could tug heart-strings. For better or worse, this was a Magic Flute minus mysticism and myth.
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