Scroll To Top

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute


It's a trifle sad when the most praise a critic can muster after seeing a performance of Mozart's sublime masterpiece, The Magic Flute, is for the sets and costumes

It's a trifle sad when the most praise a critic can muster after seeing a performance of Mozart's sublime masterpiece The Magic Flute is for the sets and costumes, but this, alas, is the situation I find myself in tonight.

Not that the Los Angeles Opera performance was bad. All in all the cast was quite acceptable (with fleeting moments of brilliance), but The Magic Flute demands more than this. There are passages in the opera that can raise the soul to a level that one rarely experiences elsewhere in the theater -- passages that reassure the listener or viewer that all is well with humanity, that man has something of the divine in him after all. All these passages passed by this evening in a rather lackluster haze. But it was nice to look at.

First, then, to what was right -- Peter Hall's Magic Flute is one of the most enchanting this critic has ever viewed. In a world where opera is being increasingly appropriated by wunderkind directors who inflict their own belabored concepts on the viewer, it's refreshing to see a production that follows the text simply for its own sake. Very often in the past I've found that I've had to attempt a "Vulcan Mind Meld" with the director in order to understand what he was getting at -- not so this evening. Everything in Hall's production works -- and beautifully so.

From the opening, where the proscenium arch is decorated to resemble the giant serpent that threatens our hero, to the very simple staging of the finale, I found myself breathless with wonder. Tasteful uses of lighting and projection went hand in hand with Mozart's magnificent score, and the costumes were colorful and imaginative. The famous scene in the first act finale in which Tamino charms wild animals with his flute (hybrid animals this time -- which we've seen before, but never so endearing as tonight) elicited well-deserved spontaneous applause from a delighted audience. The production was just about perfect in every way.

So, then, what was wrong? The magic was there in the production but lost in the music. Matthew Polenzani certainly looked the part as the Prince Tamino, but while the voice was steady and flawless, nothing was put across that was distinctly memorable. The same could be said of Marie Arnet's Pamina -- a pretty voice, but with little personality of its own. "Ach, Ich Fuhls" has never seemed less compelling.

L'ubica Vargicova's Queen of the Night was far worse. Although she navigated the role's daunting coloratura passages without much trouble, much of her singing was a bit squally and hard on the ear, with almost no personalization of the role. Her curtain call, however, elicited much cheering from the crowd -- I wondered if my comrades in the stalls had heard the same performance I had.

One of the established stars of the cast was Nathan Gunn, and he didn't disappoint. In the past few years he has made the role of Papageno something of a calling card, and he certainly knows how to pull out all the stops as far as charm. Besides that, Gunn is one of those rarities in the opera world -- a real sex symbol, and he was definitely sexy this evening, even through all the Papageno feathers and makeup. But we expect Gunn to be wonderful and thus are not surprised when he is. Love those dimples, though.

Another star in the cast was Mathias Goerne (also a famous Papageno) in the relatively small role of the Speaker. As usual, Goerne sounded sublime, making the most of the few minutes he had onstage.

But the real surprise of the evening was Austrian bass Gunther Groissbock's Sarastro. Although he seemed to hold back a bit in the first act finale, his performance grew in strength after the intermission, and his "In Diese Heilgen Hallen" was one of the most beautiful this critic has ever heard. Rich, poignant, steady in tone, it provided one moment where the magic of Mozart hit home, a moment to be savored. Groissbock is one to watch.

Greg Fedderly's Monostatos was suitably sung, and his interpretation adequate in its comic repulsiveness, aided by his grotesque makeup and costuming. And Amanda Squitieri was a charmingly perky Papagena, though, once again, not a particularly memorable one.

The Three Ladies were played mostly for laughs, as they usually are, and pleasantly sung to boo, by Tamara Wilson, Lauren McNeese, and Beth Clayton. In particular, Clayton's hilarious characterization of the Third Lady was a bit of a show in itself and very fun to watch, if occasionally over-the-top in its campiness. She has the makings of a fine comic actress -- one would like to see her as Rosina in Il Barbiere or Isabella in l'Italiana -- perhaps we shall someday.

Unfortunately, the lack of sparkle in the musical performance had much to do with James Conlon's conducting. I am a great admirer of Maestro Conlon and have sung his praises many a time, but tonight he fell rather short. His conducting was staid and a bit stodgy, and most of the score's golden moments seemed to elude him. Conlon excels in Wagner, Puccini, Verdi and in most late romantic repertoire, but Mozart does not seem to be his forte.

Happily, the second act finale, one of the greatest miracles in all Western music, was brought off well, and the Papageno-Papagena duet had its proper effect. However, when all was said and done, this was a performance that was visually stunning but musically uninspired.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Charlie Richards