• April 17, 2012 /  Reviews, Stuff

    The picture above is from “Prinz Tamino”, a beautiful book by Michael Sowa. The book has the sub-title “Märchen und Papiertheater nach Mozarts Zauberflöte” (“Fairy Tale and Paper Theater based on…”). The picture is actually of one of the pages (of heavy card stock) that comprise the paper theater. The figures may be punched out and you can put on your own Magic Flute paper production.
    And the fairy tale is fun too. It is indeed an abbreviated version of the Flute with the whole cast of characters. But best are the wonderful illustrations by Sowa. Here are a couple of images from the book.
    The first is Tamino meeting the Queen of the Night and the second is the entrance to the trial by fire. Really great. And there are many, many other wonderful images of characters and settings in the book.
    The text is in German. But even if you can’t read the story you will delight in the illustrations and, of course, the paper theater!
    Michael Sowa
    Märchen und Papiertheater nach
    Mozarts Zauberflöte
    mit einem Capriccio von Eckhard Henscheid
    published by Aufbau-Verlag GmbH, Berlin 2000
    ISBN 3-351-04002-4

  • April 17, 2012 /  Commentary, Stuff

    On a trip to München back in 2006, my wife and I were strolling around the city and as we approached the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz we noticed some people picketing. Curious, we walked closer and saw it was the stage workers that were on strike. And as a result the evenings performance (I think it was supposed to have been “Fiddler on the Roof”) was cancelled.
    Then we saw this banner. (It’s over one-and-a-half meters tall.)
    Wow! A concertante performance of Die Zauberflöte. Well, since they had no stage workers, a performance without scenery and costumes was all they could muster. But a chance to see (or rather hear) a live Magic Flute should not be passed up. So, we went inside to see if they still had any tickets. The lady at the counter almost laughed and said they had plenty!
    A quick call to our friends who we were scheduled to dine with that evening to ask if they wanted to join us. No takers so we told them we would meet them after the performance. (I think they thought we were a bit crazy.) We paid the (very reduced) price for two tickets and killed the hour or so until it started.
    Well, it was brilliant! Turns out it was a chance for the principles to go through the music before the premiere in a couple of weeks and since there were only about thirty people in the audience the performance was very relaxed and everyone seemed to be having a great time. In fact it was some of the best singing we’ve heard live. And the orchestra was so lively and fluid. All the performers were there for the love of their craft and they really connected with the few of us in the hall.
    Ah, those once in a lifetime opportunities.
    Oh, so what about that big banner? Well, I thought I would ask if they would let me have one of the smaller posters as a souvenir of this one-off evening. The gentleman said he couldn’t open the cases but I could have the banner! I unroll it now and then and we remember the Zauberflöte without scenery or costumes that enchanted us in München!

  • December 28, 2010 /  Commentary, Stuff

    The title translates to program (or programme) booklets and refers to the programs you get at an opera, theater, or other performance.
    (Click on any of the images for larger versions.)


    Sitting comfortably at home and listening to opera, such as one of the many fine audio recordings of Die Zauberflöte, is a great pleasure. Of course, opera is also a visual medium and there are a number of fine video recordings making it possible to listen to, and view, a performance at home. But neither compares to the experience of a live performance. A live performance involves you in ways that a recording cannot.
    Over the years, my partner blackcat and I have seen many live performances, open-air, in the opera house, and even once in a convention center. Most were good, some not so good, and a few were extraordinary (the productions of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and the Semperoper in Dresden come to mind). But all generated the excitement that comes from being there for that truly unique experience, that unique performance.
    Another plus about going to a live performance is being able get a program. Now, the quality of these programs varies greatly. Some are not much more than a list of the performers. Others are really just glossy brochures of ideal performances past (the touring company at the convention center, for example). The most interesting are the programs produced by the standing opera houses to showcase their current productions. The best are rich with photographes and artwork and have background information about the opera, the composer and librettist, the production, and history and commentary. This is a page from a very informative program article in the form of a glossary.

    Zauberflöte A bis Z

    Sometimes, however, the programs have relatively little to do with the opera but rather say more about the personality of the opera house, or the producers. These are attempts to make the program itself a statement. A favorite example, from a local opera house, was a collection of poetry and artwork with little or no connection to the Magic Flute outside of the authors imagination. Were the poets and artists friends of the author? Was she forced to read these poems in school? I have no idea. But it is so over the top with self importance that it is a treasure of my collection.
    Here is an example. The following shows some sketches by Achim Freyer that may, or may not, be drafts for the set design for the opera.

    Achim Freyer Sketches

    Having seen the production I am inclined to believe that they are, indeed, preliminary sketches for the set design. Here are some of the set design models. They are also by Achim Freyer, the designer of the opera sets and costumes.

    Achim Freyer Set Designs

    Whether the program is good or a something of a joke, I do enjoy occasionally thumbing through the collection and remembering the excitement I felt when the conductor raised his hands and then the familiar chords that begin the adventure sound out. Magic moments, those.

  • June 5, 2010 /  Stuff

    I suspect that most of you have heard of the so-called “Mozart Effect”. That listening to classical music, and Mozart in particular, enhances brain function and can increase intelligence—even for the not-yet born. (link to the Wikipedia article) There are even special sound systems for a sort of elevator music experience for unborns (the link is not an endorsement).
    And the “Moozart Effect” [sic] has been credited with higher production rates in dairy cows.
    But it seems that maybe Mozart is good even for more basic life forms than human fetuses or cows. A recent article in The Guardian newspaper (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/02/sewage-mozart-germany) says that the director of a sewage plant here in Germany is playing Mozart operas to the sludge. I quote:

    Anton Stucki, Swiss-born chief operator of the sewage centre in Treuenbrietzen, an hour south-west of Berlin, believes the chords and cadences of the compositions speed up the way the organisms work and lead to a quicker breakdown of biomass.

    “We think the secret is in the vibrations of the music, which penetrate everything – including the water, the sewage and the cells. It creates a certain resonance that stimulates the microbes and helps them to work better. We’re still in the test phase, but I’ve already noticed that the sewage breakdown is more efficient,” he said.

    He goes on to say that the preferred opera is The Magic Flute. So, Zauberflöte fans, it seems we’re in good company!

  • February 21, 2009 /  Stuff

    Back in 1968, the porcelain maker Rosenthal introduced their “Zauberflöte” collections. There were full place settings, tea and coffee services and additional pieces. They came in numerous variations including plain white, “Platin” in white with dark gray accents, and “Sarastro” with lots of gold.
    Rosenthal Zauberflöte Broshure
    I first heard of these pieces from a friend whose mom gave her a tea service, in “Platin”,  a number of years ago. She brought it out once when we were visiting. Really cool stuff. Definitely over the top but cool.
    I went looking for some more info about the pieces and ended up with quite a number of links to eBay. So, to add to my growing collection of Magic Flute stuff, I bought a small vase, pictured here.
    Rosenthal vase
    Rosenthal vase inscription
    The inscription on the base is a line from the opera. It reads: “1.Aüfzüg, 1.Aüftritt: Die drei Damen: Würd ich mein Herz der Liebe weihn, so müßt es dieser Jüngling sein!” (1.Act, 1.Scene: The three ladies: Would I give my heart to love, it must be for this young man!). The signature is of the designer, Bjørn Wiinblad.