The Metropolitan Opera’s take on Mozart’s fairy tale Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) provides a good antidote to the kind of malaise that tends to set in at this time of year. Your taxes may be overdue and your colleagues may be trying your patience in new and special ways, but a trip to a strange, enchanted world where a prince and a bird-catcher race to the rescue of an imprisoned princess and get inducted into a secret society on the way may help you forget about the end-of-year madness around you.
There’s certainly a lot of joy to be had seeing the company commit itself so completely to the ludicrous premise of Mozart’s evergreen popular favourite. Julie Taymor’s production, costume, and make-up design all contribute to the madness, with primary colours in strong contrast and alarmingly prominent eyeliner all over the place. (And do be on the lookout for the giant chessboard.)
The production, which dates from the 2005/2006 season, also includes a large number of puppets, most notably a large lizard-like monster, a band of dancing bears, and a variety of colourful birds. If the visual assault becomes a bit too much to process, simply close your eyes and enjoy the music. Musical Director Emeritus James Levine and the Met orchestra receive an enthusiastic and well-deserved round of applause after the overture, and the magic definitely doesn’t stop there.
Baritone Markus Werba’s warm, easy vocals are enchanting, and his comedic energy suits the Papageno character well. South African soprano Golda Schultz makes her Met debut in this production and sings the role of Pamina with a powerful, clear voice and a charming presence. Her rendition of ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ is practically faultless. Schultz and Werba’s duet ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ is the musical equivalent of honey dripping from a cake and definitely qualifies as one of the highlights of this production.
The role of Tamino is sung by Charles Castronovo, whose resonant tenor notes lend the requisite level of lovesickness to the character. René Pape delivers a contained performance as Sarastro, seemingly preferring to let the music do most of the work. Audience members eager to hear the Queen of the Night’s much-loved second aria ‘Der Hölle Rache’ won’t be disappointed by Kathryn Lewek’s interpretation. Her powerful coloratura and terrifying presence are more than a match for this challenging role. The chorus is relatively silent in this opera, but their gentle, deeply moving ‘O Isis und Osiris’ late in the second act is worth waiting for.
If you’re looking for a fun introduction to the world of the opera, you could hardly have asked for a better fit than the Met’s Die Zauberflöte. The striking production, with its larger-than-life puppets, abundance of geometric patterns, and impressive headgear, is sure to stay with audiences long after the credits have stopped rolling.
Die Zauberflöte is broadcast as part of the 2017/2018 Met Live in HD series and can be seen at Cinema Nouveau at the V&A Waterfront on the 21st, 28th, and 29th of November.