The Kosky/Andrade Zauberflöte at the Komische Oper

This was the 100th performance at the Berlin Komsiche Oper of the famous Kosky-Andrade production of Zauberflöte; it has also travelled to other countries. One can understand why it has been so successful. Mozart’s singspiel would seem to be ideal for a theatrical style in which the singers perform as cut-out figures amidst all sorts of animation effects devised by Paul Barritt. And it has to be admitted that it is a brilliant conception: witty, colourful and hugely imaginative. Initially the audience appeared to be relishing the show, but their coolness for the curtain calls suggests that they subsequently had reservations about the enterprise – and so did I.

In some respects the visual dimension enhanced the picture book, fairy tale, world inhabited by the protagonists, but it did not facilitate understanding of the narrative, nor the themes of the piece. The decision to dispense with spoken dialogue and to replace it with projections of the text, as in a silent film, was an attractive complement to the animation. At the same time it inhibited characterisation of the individual roles. Taken as a whole, the stylisation implicit in animation made for two-dimensional theatre and this also affected the singing and one’s response to it. What makes operatic expression so compelling is that singers communicate directly to the audience their interpretation of the music and text, as well as through their physical movement. That was impossible in this staging because they were strait-jacketed by the pre-ordained static postures. No wonder that, with the possible exception of Papageno, the excellent Tom Erik Lie, the cast had difficulty in lending a convincing profile to their roles. And the same was true for the conductor Christian Kluzen who in a “normal” performance would control the pace and fluidity of the music. Here the computer programme was master.

It was an interesting and enjoyable experience, but not one which I shall want to repeat.