Done in a period with New York City Opera in their prime, this production of one of Mozart's greatest is not quite among the best of the period but it's close. It's interesting for being the first production of Magic Flute that NYCO sang in German and for adopting the use of projecting the translation of the words above stage(or subtitles), a controversial choice at the time but has become a trend in opera houses now.
While not among the very best filmed productions of Magic Flute, this NYCO production is towards the better end and does deserve a DVD release. The production values are traditional and you can tell a lot of effort went into them, the sets are enchanting and atmospheric and the lighting's neither too dark or too bright, not many colours are used for it but never is there too much of a drab look. When it comes to the costumes the knockout was Queen of the Night's which is one of the best Queen of the Night costumes I've seen and the 18th century look for Tamino and Pamina was really charming. Sarastro's could have been longer and more flowing perhaps though(personal tastes). The only big visual flaw was the make-up, Queen of the Night's was wholly appropriate and effective but in most cases the make-up was laid on a bit too much and aged the performers somewhat, the worst case being with Jon Garrison's Tamino.
The staging is filled with many entertaining touches, almost all of them with Papagano, with the standouts being the truly infectious Papagano/Papagana duet, Papagana in her old woman guise and the scene with Tamino, Papagano and the two priests which mixed hilarious dialogue on Papagano's part with the serious situation surprisingly well. The latter scene could have easily come across as mugging but it didn't to me. There are moments of intensity, Der Halle Rache should send chills down the spine and it did, the beautiful Isis Und Osiris chorus is simply staged but truly moving and it is easy to believe in the friendship between Tamino and Papagano and the love between Tamino and Pamina.
Musically, the production on the most part excels. The orchestra play stylishly and also with fiery intensity, nuances and tight ensemble and the chorus while a little stolidly directed do sound great and involved. I did love how the part where the men are entranced by the bell sounds was acted and staged, that brought a lot of laughter with the audience and for good reason. Sergiu Comissiona shows himself as a sympathetic and dramatically alert conductor, some of the tempos are on the slow side but not to the extent that it sucks the life out of the performance. The Three Ladies make a foreboding mark and blend well and the Three Boys are adorable, they don't blend quite as well with the 2nd boy having the strongest voice of the three but all three have nice voices. The priests, armoured men and the speaker are all solidly played.
Jon Garrison sings beautifully as Tamino with silky phrasing and good musicality(the pianissimo singing after the speaker's last phrase was heart-melting) and he is an appealing actor. Faith Esham is a poignant Pamina with a voice of much warmth and beauty especially in the middle register, her Ach Ich Fuhls could have had more nuances dynamics-wise but it's beautifully sung and expressively and subtly acted. Rachel Rosales is an imperious Queen of the Night that is strongly reminiscent of Turandot, and she sings with thrilling ping and flexibility(all the notes including the top Fs are spot on) apart from having a tendency of adopting the Joan Sutherland-like mouth and chin tension which looked a touch odd but didn't mar the singing at all. Stephen Dickson is just delightful as Papagano and stole the show actually, his voice had a sonorous quality but it was his acting that bowled me over, it was just a joy to see somebody having the time of his life. Michelle McBride is a pert Papagana(and hilarious in the old woman disguise) and matches Dickson in the brilliance of her comic timing. John Lankston thankfully does not overplay Monostatos and a good voice that suits character roles. Was less keen on Gregory Stapp as Sarastro, his voice did sound under-powered and at times pushed(the low notes did seem an effort for him) and for such a noble and firm character he came across as rather stolid and casual.
As for the dialogue, it was very well written and didn't bog down the story, even the hilarious parts. And it was solidly and emotively spoken by the whole cast, but Dickson and McBride were the ones that lived it the most. In conclusion, an excellent production. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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