Lyric Opera’s New Production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” – A Whimsical Delight
Reviewed By: Jim Schneider
Do you remember as a child putting on a show on your back patio and getting all of your friends to participate in it? Well, Neil Armfield’s wonderful new production of The Magic Flute takes you back to those innocent days when imagination and play could create anything we wanted. Set in the backyard of a suburban home in the 1950s the neighborhood gathers to watch and participate in a production of The Magic Flute, utilizing whatever costumes and props they can find around the house and yard. Amrfield has taken Mozart’s lead from the original production produced on a shoestring which premiered at Freihaus Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna on September 30, 1791. Written for the People’s Theatre in Vienna who were strapped for cash The Magic Flute was Mozart’s gift to the lead actor of the resident company of the theatre, Schikaneder (who was also the first Papageno) and the working classes of 18th century Vienna while composed in their own language (all operas at court were performed in Italian and German was out of the question.
Set designer Dale Ferguson has provided a highly imaginative and simple concept design where our imaginations make flashlights into torches, glitter into fairy dust and cardboard boxes becomes a dragon. Much of the costume design takes it lead from the Disney mania of the 1950s with a nod to Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. You cannot help but to be charmed by this meticulously designed and directed production.
Mozart’s music in his time would be comparable to rap music today; it was controversial and revolutionary. The Viennese Court and Emperor were dismayed and appalled at Mozart’s choice of what they considered base material for his librettos. But his music and subject matter is a reflection of who he was at heart; a base, rude, brilliant genius.
The Magic Flute is a fairy tale, with themes of love and of good versus evil. Prince Tamino, (sung superbly by British tenor Andrew Staples) is fleeing a dragon when he is rescued by the Queen of the Night’s three ladies in waiting. When he comes to he wonders who saved him and meets Papageno, the Bird Catcher for The Queen of the Night (a stellar performance by Adam Plachetka who is completely at home singing Mozart and Handel) and believes that he is the one who rescued him from the dragon. Lying to Tamino, Papageno is punished by the Queen of the Night who padlocks his mouth shut.
Tamino is next presented a portrait of The Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina (who is made up to look like Snow White to The Queen of the Night’s Evil Queen) where he instantly falls in love with her. Tamina is being held captive by Sarasto and the Queen asks Tamino to rescue her. As his reward he can have her hand. She provides him with three boy genie guides (highly impressive performances by Casey Lyons, Parker Scribner and Asher Alcantara with strong and angelic voices).
Dale Ferguson’s Set and Costume Design capture the optimistic innocence of suburban America in the 1950s with a unified design that is splendid in minute detail. Damien Cooper’s lighting design is sheer poetry, with moonlight that looks so real you would swear you were outside under the stars.
Tamino and Papgeno end up at the Temple of Wisdom where she is being held and put to several tests of character to determine if he is a good man and worthy of Pamina. In the end good triumphs over evil and the Queen of the Night is vanquished and the two lovers are united. Papageno’s wish comes true when he meets Papagena (a marvelous performance by Diana Newman who looks like the stripper Mazeppa from the reigning musical of the time, Gypsy).
Performance highlights include Kathyrn Lewek’s (Queen of the Night) aria (one of the most famous and difficult arias in operatic history) which brings the house down; Lewek is a fierce Queen of the Night. German soprano Christiane Karg’s Pamina is perfection; blending the right light touch of humor with serious heroine.
The two standout performances are Adam Plachetka’s Papgeno and Diana Newman’s Papagena with a strong chemistry and ability to play off of one another that is a joy to watch. They both possess a childlike, devlish innocence which captures the entire essence of Mozart’s original vision.
The new Magic Flute at Lyric is a rare instance where a piece penned in the 18th century transfers seamlessly to a different era. I credit this to Director Neil Armfield who has not only remained true to the composer but having a deep enough understanding of the true essence of this magical fairy tale set in the timeless imagination of our inner child.
The Magic Flute runs at the Civic Opera House through January 27th, 2017. Curtain is at 7:00pm and the running time is 3 hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at www.lyricopera.com.