Mostly Mozart’s Magic Flute Mostly Magical

Pamina and Papageno, photo @ Michael Daniel

One of the few things operaphiles can agree upon is that the Met is a terrible venue for Mozart. The size swallows up the intimacy and charm of Mozart’s music. The Magic Flute has had a really rough go of it in recent years as it is almost always presented in the shortened English version. Julie Taymor’s production is colorful but vapid. Therefore opera lovers owe it to themselves to go to the smaller David K@&! Theater to see the Mostly Mozart Festival’s presentation of Barrie Kosky’s mostly magical production of The Magic Flute. The smaller theater works wonders -- I was up in the front row of the fourth ring but felt closer to the singers than I often do in the orchestra of the Met.

Papageno has no bells, photo @ Michael Daniel 
This production originated at the Komische Oper Berlin and has traveled to several different opera companies around the world (the Liceu and Los Angeles Opera are two). It uses the British theater company 1927 to create a cinematic evening where live singers interact with animated projections.  Sometimes this doesn’t work — the singers often have to stand on little raised platforms and as a result are severely limited in movement. Thus we miss Tamino actually playing his flute, Papageno’s bells, and the traditional reveal of “Papagena” from an old lady to a young hottie. And the spoken dialogue is gone and replaced by screen projections, much like a silent movie. There are some abridgments to the score.

The QotN is a huge spider, photo @ Hiroyuki Ito
But what we do get in return is a show that is sometimes surreal, sometimes beautiful, but has a surprising amount of heart. Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt’s animations tell the story well, from the scary red serpent that looks like it’s “chasing” Tamino to the Queen of the Night being a huge spider. The animations have the right amount of cutesiness — Papageno is accompanied by a black cat and in the Papageno/Papagena duet there’s an animation of a little house with children running around. Pamina is returned to Tamino with butterfly wings. The Three Ladies sing about their infatuation with Tamino and there are heart animations projected. I could describe it all night but just go see it. It's really a different experience -- The Magic Flute as a silent film. The characters are dressed like silent movie stars — Pamina wears a Louise Brooks bob, Papageno has the Buster Keaton shuffle, Papagena is a flapper showgirl, Monostatos looks like Nosferatu.

Pamina flies off, photo @Michael Daniel
All this would be naught if there were not strong musical values in the performance. Thankfully the musical side was very strong. Louis Langrée led an unintrusive performance in the pit — it was light, breezy, very summer festival if that makes sense. Frank Schulte was wonderful playing the fortepiano all night. This Komische Oper Berlin chorus was amazing — they sing not the big sound that the Met chorus so favors, but with a light, harmonious approach. The three little boys from the the Tölzer Boys Choir was maybe the best part of the performance. They sing with that pure, high boy soprano sound that was just so pleasing to the ears. They got the loudest applause of the night.

Tamino's journey, photo @ Michael Daniel
The lead singers were all decent. Audrey Luna was a last minute replacement as Queen of the Night. She sang her two arias with plenty of force and hit all the high F's although I can't say this is a beautiful voice. Maureen McKay was a strong, spunky Pamina and thus sidestepped one of the more problematic aspects of the libretto which is Monostatos' attempted rape of Pamina. McKay's Pamina was not a victim. "Ach, ich fühls" was sung with a smooth, pleasing soprano and a simple, touching plaintiveness.

Julian Behrs had a light, airy tenor and sang his music with real tenderness. Dimitriy Ivashchenko as Sarastro had that black Russian bass sound that opera lovers crave. "O Isis und  Osiris" was a big applause winner. Rodion Possogov has a lyrical baritone sound that was appropriate as Papageno, although the color of his voice is actually rather tenor-ish. His bird calls were very cute. The very capable Johannes Dunz (Monostatos) was unfortunately character-booed at curtain calls. The Three Ladies (Ashley Milanese, Karolina Gumos, Ezgi Kutlu)were fine if not spectacular.

But its not the individual performances that stood out but the overall cohesion. The Magic Flute is one of those meta-operas that's really about the mystical, healing power of music and what enchanted in 1791 enchants today. There are only a few performances left. And judging from the huge age ranges I saw at this performance you are never too young or too old for The Magic Flute.


  1. I saw the Friday performance with the same cast. I generally agree with your review but I had some problems--I can't believe I am writing this but I actually missed much of the spoken dialogue--esp. the lack of the Speaker and the Pappagena-Pappgeno scene. I also thought some of the serious scenes were undermined by the animations which had the audience laughing. I have always thought the best way to approach this opera is that when it is serious be serious and when it is comic be comic. I don't know if I saw the same Sarastro or it was just signing on the platform but I thought he was too light for the role. I also thought Luna had pitch problems (esp. in the low end). I Thought McKay, Dunz and the boy sopranos were great (can't believe they weren't named in the program). All in all I really enjoyed it--it is one of my fav operas and it is on balance a wonderful production. My first choice is still the Bergmann film

    1. I think the dialogue is an issue with speakers who aren't native German speakers. It's like non-Francophones speaking the dialogue in Carmen.


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