Thursday August 1, 2013

KEENE, N.H.

Labyrinth -- Did you ever hear of Emanuel Schikaneder? You did, if you saw the film "Amadeus." He was played by Simon Callow and was not only the original Papageno in "The Magic Flute" but also wrote the libretto. That was in 1791, the year of Mozart’s death. Well, the librettist-actor decided later on to cash in on the first success with a sequel. He called it "The Labyrinth, ‘The Magic Flute’ Part 2" and gave a composer named Peter von Winter the task of doing the music. It opened in 1798.

Happily, the results can be seen on a set of two ArtHaus Musik DVDs. Here a "shortened version" (running 158 minutes) is given a 2012 performance in the courtyard of the Residenzhof, Salzburg Festival, conducted by Ivor Bolton.

There is not much coherence in the plot -- --or plots, rather -- which alternate between Papageno (Thomas Tatzl) and Pagagena (Regula Muhlemann) and a somewhat tubby Tamino (Michael Schade) and his Pamina (Malin Hartelius). Along the way, we have Luna, the Queen of the Night (Julia Novikova), trying to get back at Sarastro (Christof Fischesser). Then we have the evil Tipheus (Clemens Unterreiner) and the Moor Monostros (Klaus Kuttler) both trying to get Pamina into their clutches.

We meet Papageno’s many children and even his parents. It all seems very repetitious, but the music keeps things bouncing alone, despite some pauses between the end of dialogue and the start of the next musical passage.

I had to smile at von Winter’s music. He is trying so hard to copy the Mozart style without sounding too much like Mozart. In Luna’s Act I aria, I kept expecting the magic of her "Magic Flute" coloratura to be encored; but of course von Winter could not let that happen. Indeed, the entire score is filled with Mozartian potential without quite getting there.

The staging is thoroughly within the style of the late 1800s, as are the costumes. However, the black masks worn by the Moors may be within that style but totally unacceptable today. They are latex masks that resemble the white blackfaced performers in the old minstrel shows; and many viewers, especially over here, will be offended.

The large chorus is simply dressed in modern black suits and gowns, which is not all that jarring.

The picture is in widescreen and the subtitles are in six languages. This is a surprise treat to all opera lovers.

Drama, Myth and Legends -- I have already reviewed 13 entries in the ArtHaus DVD series, "1000 Masterworks." In the past, each disc was devoted to five examples of 10 minutes each of a school of painting such as Impressionism, early Netherlands, Renaissance portraits, Baroque, and Dada. Sets such as "National Gallery Berlin" tended to repeat paintings already seen in earlier sets, which I found a little incosiderate.

The latest addition to this series, "Drama, Myths and Legends," has on two discs yet another 10 works already appearing on earlier sets. I would be greatly annoyed were it not for the appropriateness of the subjects of these works and the fact that very few of my readers would have seen all the other sets in the series.

Two works pay homage to Shakespeare: "Ophelia" (John Everett Millais, 1851) and "Titania and Bottom" (Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1793). "Pyramus and Thisbe" (Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, 1514) anticipates Shakespeare but refers to the myth from Ovid.

"Pygmalion" (Paul Delvoux, 1939) is a surreal look at the legend. From the nature figures of pure myth come "Venus and Cupid" (Lucas Cranach der Altere, 1509) and "Flora" (Jan Massys, 1559). Christian mythology is the source of "Six-Winged Seraph" (Mikhail Vrubel, 1904), while the Bible inspires "Samson and Delilah" (Anthonis van Dyke, 1630) and "Salome" (Franz von Stuck, 1906).

Difficult to classify is "The Caress" (Fernand Khnopff, 1896), for reasons that I will leave the viewer to discover.

The narrations in three languages refer to other works by the painter under consideration. All in all, I like the thematic coherence of this particular set and can recommend it highly.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.