'Die Zauberflöte' is one of Mozart's last works (premiered just two months before his premature death in 1791 aged just 35) and to me it's one of his finest. It may not be his best story-wise ('Le Nozze Di Figaro', 'Don Giovanni' and 'Cosi Fan Tutte'), but it is the best known of his Singspiel operas for good reason, its setting is magical and the music and characters are some of his most tuneful and memorable.
First encountered this production by Julie Taymor via the Met's first ever Live in HD cinema broadcast way back in 2006. It was a good and very interesting production then, despite that it was in English ('Die Zauberflöte' actually translates into English better than most operas, but when in German it's the real deal) and heavily cut, being very entertaining, a wonder visually and being very well-performed. Second time around, it's even better. This time it's in German, with well translated and easy to follow English subtitles, and no music cuts.
On its own, it's very good and has the needed magic and fun. Actually when it is good it is a triumph and certainly up there with the most unique operatic experiences in a good way. There are a couple of things that didn't work for me. While the staging is engrossing, even in calmer moments like the sublime "Isis Und Osiris" chorale with the chorus, there were a couple of exceptions. The huge puppet doubles in the Armed Men scene were very distracting, completely taking away from Mozart's genius counterpoint writing in the scene, and saw absolutely no need for them.
How Monostatos is characterised also misfires. The blame doesn't lie with Greg Fedderly, who actually does his best with what he has, while over-acting somewhat, and he sings characterfully. The character suffers however from every potential problem Monostatos faces, the character is neither funny or menacing and instead is reduced to an over-compensated whimpering idiot that actually feels out of place within this production, which takes itself more seriously than the more family-friendly 2006 production. Am aware that it is hard to make Monostatos up in a way that won't offend, but he looks ridiculous here (like a weird-looking bat in a fat suit) with the close ups being distastefully disturbing.
Any other faults are minor nit-picks. Maybe the tempos for the final farewell trio "Soll Ich Dich" and the first part of the Armed Men scene could have been taken a little faster and for my tastes "Soll Ich Dich" for continuity's sake with Pamina's feelings works better, and makes more sense, placed earlier in the act.
This sounds negative, but actually there's a huge amount to enjoy. It is a spectacular production visually. There are highly imaginative huge sets, colourful costumes especially for Sarastro and the knockout ones for Queen of the Night (the much more mysterious and creepier look for the Three Boys also works) and jaw-dropping puppetry, favourites include the flying goose and the dancing bear.
Staging only misfires with the Armed Men scene and with Monostatos, everywhere else it's highly engrossing and full of fun, emotion and magic. Highlights include Papagano's dinner scene (comedy gold), "Ein Mädchen Oder Weibchen", the whole interaction with Papagano and Papagana, the Act 1 scene with the animals and the Pamina and Papagano duet. It does a great job immersing one into this magical imaginatively rendered world. Oh and the spoken dialogue was delivered with a lot of energy and feeling, especially Papagano.
Musically, it's excellent. The orchestra has the grace, majesty, liveliness and nuance of the score and demonstrate all seamlessly. The chorus sound wonderful as ever, their acting has been more individual elsewhere but in all honesty the chorus role dramatically is a static one. James Levine's conducting is right on point mostly, starting the evening off with a truly exuberant rendition of the Overture, ending it with equal merriment and shaping everything in between with alertness to the drama, sympathy towards the performers, fire and intimacy.
Charles Castronovo combines both lyricism, ardour and heroism to a role that can be done with too much of one rather than a mix. He sounds glorious, a very late 19th-century romantic lead role kind of voice but it's warm and ringing without being too much of one dynamic. "Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schön" is beautifully sung. Golda Schulz is a rising star in her Met debut, she is radiant and expressive in all senses. "Ach Ich Fühl's" is one of the most gorgeous arias in the soprano repertoire and Schulz nails it in a tear-jerking performance.
Papagano is played with terrific gusto by Markus Werba, whose comic timing is a delight and he is a very charming companion too. His voice is warm and hearty while softening when needed, blending tenderly with Schulz in their duet together. The Queen of the Night may have less than 15 minutes on stage but whenever she appears she's a show-stealer. Kathryn Lewek is electric, evokes fiery chills and sometimes poignancy and tackles the notoriously challenging vocal fireworks role with ease ("Der Hölle Rache" particularly is hell to sing, her easiest music is actually at the end and it's still the hardest of the vocal parts in that quintet).
Rene Pape demonstrates why he is the Sarastro of today and to me the best in the role since Kurt Moll. He has the dignity, nobility, restraint and gravitas for the role to a note-perfect degree, and his voice is as warm and gorgeously resonant as ever, particularly excelling in "In Diesen Heil'gen Hallen". The three ladies are well blended and formidable but also entertaining without being too camp, while the three boys are still pretty adorable. The speaker role is mellifluously sung and Ashley Emerson is a pert Papagana. Fedderly and the too stentorian Armed Men come off least.
In conclusion, a Magic Flute that has the necessary fun and magic. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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