• 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.

  • July 1, 2009 /  Commentary, Performances

    It must be obvious from this site that I am a big fan of Die Zauberflöte. And I really like many of Mozart’s other operas (Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Entführung aus dem Serail to name a couple). But along side these, my “desert island” collection would include lots of Beethoven.
    Mozart was a major influence on Beethoven. Beethoven traveled to Vienna during the period Mar.-May, 1787 to study with Mozart (but was called back to Bonn when his mother fell ill). He had great respect for Mozart. In 1796 Beethoven wrote in a letter “I have always counted myself amongst the greatest admirers of Mozart, and shall remain so until my last breath”.
    Beethoven wrote a number of variations based on themes from Mozart operas. He considered Die Zauberflöte to be Mozart’s best.
    In 1796, Beethoven wrote 12 Variations for Piano & Cello in F major on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”, Op. 66. Here are variations one and two.

    In 1801 Beethoven wrote 7 Variations for Piano & Cello in E flat major on the duet “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”, WoO 46. Here is the first variation.

    These performances are from a recording of Beethoven Cello and Piano music with Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin, Sony CD SM2K 58985.
    The quote above is taken from The Beethoven Compendium, ISBN 0-500-27871-1

  • February 26, 2009 /  Commentary, Recordings

    A couple of years ago I purchased a recording of the Flute by Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Bayerische Staatsoper (EMI Classics re-release, originally recorded in 1972).
    On my first hearing I was immediately impressed. Then, in the second act, a surprise! A duet by Tamino and Papageno, “Pamina, wo bist du?”, that I had never heard, or heard of, before. The reference books I have listed nothing. Very curious I searched the Net for anything I could find. But the only references were to this recording (for the track listing). Hmmm.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  • February 22, 2009 /  Commentary, Performances

    The role of the Königen der Nacht (the Queen of the Night) is the “diva” role in Die Zauberflöte. The role has lots of “virtuoso” singing (coloratura) and she usually gets a big entrance and a  great costume. The Queen only has two arias but a good performance (singing and acting) is really important for the entire opera. Because the Queen of the Night is crazy.
    Mozart’s music is brilliant at demonstrating for us that this is so. But we don’t know that right away. The Queen’s first aria starts out rational enough. “Oh, zitt’re nicht, mein lieber Sohn!” (“Don’t quake [before me] my beloved son!”) begin her words to Tamino. And the music portrays her as rational enough. She goes on to explain how her only daughter was kidnapped from her by the evil Sarastro and she was powerless to intervene (“Denn meine Hilfe war zu schwach” (“For I was too weak to help”)). And we really feel her pain. Mozart is really brilliant.
    Then, we see her true colors. We can almost feel her crack when the tone of the music shifts as she sings “Du, du, du! wirst sie zu befreien geben. Du wirst der Tochter retter sien.” (“You, you, you! will release her. You will be the saviour of my daughter.”). Now, I am not a big fan of coloratura but the Queen’s next bit can only be Mozart’s way of showing us that she is mad. Did I say that Mozart is brilliant? But poor Tamino. What a wimp. He falls for it all.
    When the Queen returns in Act II, the coloratura is over the top. Absolutely brilliant. (That word again. Hard to avoid it when talking about this opera.) Kill Sarastro, she tells Pamina. Do it or you are no longer my daughter. Wow, is that dysfunctional or what? Like I said, the Queen is crazy. And the music that Mozart provided her is just beautiful. Beautifully mad.
    Here is the great Erna Berger as the Queen singing the second act aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”(“Hellish revenge roils in my heart”). Pretty strong stuff!
    This is from a 1938 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.