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Klaus Kuttler as Monostatos and Julia Novikova as The Queen of Night [Photo © Hans Jörg Michel courtesy of Salzburger Festival]
05 Oct 2012

Mozart’s Ghost finds its Way through Das Labyrinth

W.A. Mozart, despite a historically antagonistic relationship with his city of birth, retains an omnipresence in Salzburg that emerges in full force with each iteration of the illustrious summer festival.

Peter von Winter: Das Labyrinth

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Klaus Kuttler as Monostatos and Julia Novikova as The Queen of Night [Photo © Hans Jörg Michel courtesy of Salzburger Festival]


The indulgence reached its pinnacle in 2006—fifty years prior to his tercentenary—with the staging of all 22 of his operas, including early works which scholars have discovered to have been co-authored by his father, Leopold. This season, the new Intendant Alexander Pereira has brushed the dust off another 18th-century obscurity, written not by W.A. himself but in posthumous tribute to his last opera, Die Zauberflöte. The librettist and impresario Emmanuel Schickaneder, eager to ride the success of the Singspiel, set to work writing a sequel, Das Labyrinth, and found a willing partner in the composer Peter von Winter. The work was premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1798, seven years after Mozart’s death and the premiere of Die Zauberflöte.

To Schickaneder ‘s credit, the ambiguous nature of good and evil in the original libretto continues to provide scholars with endless fodder. When Goethe heard of the Das Labyrinth’s success in 1803, he began penning his own sequel which was left incomplete after the fruitless search for a composer. While Goethe develops the story in a more Romantic direction, endowing Tamino and Pamina with a son, the Genius, and augmenting the magical powers of both the Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the trajectory of Schickaneder’s sequel does not depart much from Die Zauberflöte despite the introduction of several new characters and a labyrinth which represents the final trial for Tamino and Pamina (never mind that Sarastro already initiated them into his sun circle). Meanwhile, the Queen is scheming not only with the moor Monostatos but Tipheus, King of Paphos, who vies for Pamina’s hand. They manage to briefly abduct the princess, but the Queen must ultimately cede to Sarastro’s powers when Tamino defeats Tipheus in a duel. Papageno and Papagena, who have discovered a large extended family, also help suppress evil by capturing Monostatos.

Winter’s score faithfully adopts strains of the original opera with a range of success. The first duet of Papageno and Papagena, “Lalaera! Lara! Lara!,” is a pleasant spinoff of “Pa, pa, pa…” without directly rehashing Mozart’s melodies. The chorus of priests that ends the eleventh scene of Act One is skilfully crafted, a ghost of Mozart’s incomparable harmonies, yet it would have been better placed at the very end of the act. The Queen’s opening aria “Ha! Wohl mir! Höre es, Natur” reveals that Winter studied his late Mozart operas carefully, with strong hints of his proto-Romanticism, yet it is melodically not very inventive, and the firework coloratura that characterizes the role is reduced to a passage of uninspired runs toward the end. The sequel’s Pamina is assigned more virtuosity than her original counterpart, but sadly, the spin-off to the aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”—“ Ach! Ich muss alleine tragen”—gives no musical indication of her longing to die and instead culminates in meaningless coloratura. The Three Women, here named Venus, Amor and Page, get some nice numbers, revealing Winter’s talent for colourful, pseudo-Mozartean scoring, and yet the effort could have been more self-conscious. The five-note motive representing the magic flute does not emerge once, not even when Sarastro hands it to Tamino for protection before he enters the labyrinth.

Despite the worn-out qualities of the piece, it has its genuinely charming moments, particularly with Papageno and his clan. In the Salzburg production, seen August 26, the young Austrian baritone Thomas Tatzl stole the show as the feathered bird catcher, joking to the audience with tireless charisma and a naturally warm, well-projected voice. Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann was also delightful as Papagena. The celebrated tenor Michael Schade was the stand-out of the evening from a purely vocal perspective in the role of Tamino, while Malin Hartelius was more uneven as Pamina, struggling to overcome the unfavourable acoustics of the Residenzhof, a covered courtyard where audience members sat with blankets on their laps to ward of the chill of the Salzburger Schnürrregen (sudden rainfall). The bass of Christoff Fischesser similarly risked being swallowed in the role of Sarastro. As the Queen of the Night, Julia Novikova was strongest in pure lyric moments. The baritone Klaus Kuttler was a frustrated Monostatos, and Anton Scharinger amusing as the Older Papageno.

The Three Women (Nina Bernsteiner, Christina Daletska, and Monia Bohinec) brought fine singing to the stage, as did members of the Festival Children’s Choir who appeared to Tamino as the “Three Genies” after Monostatos’ attempt to abduct Papagena. The Salzburger Bachchor, prepared by Alois Glassner, did full justice to Winter’s choral numbers, and Ivor Bolton led the Orchestra of the Mozarteum in a characteristically crisp, authentic reading of the score, even if it occasionally lacked elegance. Sets by Raimund Orfeo Voigt started out inauspiciously with a mini-proscenium of a theatre that looked straight out of a high-school production but improved with towering black panels punctured with light to represent Sarastro’s circle. Costumes by Elisabeth Binder-Neururer were designed in the local tradition of semi-rococo but reached their apex in the colourful Lederhosen- and Tracht-inspired garb of the Papageno family. The dancing, feathered children of the finale reaffirmed Salzburg as an anachronism Mozart might never have imagined could exist over three centuries after his death.

Rebecca Schmid

Click here for cast and production information.

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