Pape, Durlovski stand out in Met’s charming “Zauberflöte”
Julie Taymor’s 2004 production of The Magic Flute has become a favorite at the Met, returning frequently as the company’s family-oriented holiday presentation, usually in English, and usually pared down. The 2014 run, which opened Monday night, presents the Met’s first full-length performances of the work in German since 2010.
Taymor’s production, though decidedly light and filled with puppetry, dancing bears, and colorful shapes, interestingly does not lose much when presented to the general Met audience. For all its visual appeal and lightheartedness, it manages for the most part to avoid feeling like children’s theater, owing largely to the strong performances by an all-around solid cast.
This was, above all, a solid ensemble performance, and Adam Fischer’s crisp and lively conducting laid the groundwork. He chose sprightly tempos throughout the night, ensuring that the three-hour singspiel never felt stuck. The playing of the orchestra was finely tailored to Mozart’s score, bright and graceful for the most part, but cooling off into a soft, soothing flow in calmer sections like the March of the Priests.
The Macedonian soprano Ana Durlovski made a startling debut as the Queen of the Night. In her act I aria “O zittre nicht” she showed off a dark-tinged tone with imposing, laser-like focus. Her voice feels a bit small for the Met, but she makes up for missing volume with superb technique and passionate dramatics. Her signature aria, “Der hölle Rache,” was absolutely spectacular, every one of her high notes plucked miraculously out of thin air, landing like bursts of light on the dead center of the note. Durlovski and Fischer took the aria at a heart-racing pace, her manic precision fueling her fearsome rage.
Pretty Yende, the South African soprano, has quickly become a New York sensation after a well-received 2013 Met debut in Le Comte Ory. She has a recital at Carnegie’s Weill Hall coming up next week, and on Monday she sang her first Pamina at the Met. Yende has tackled a fairly wide range of roles thus far in her career, and while Pamina was not a bad fit by any means, her voice never felt quite the right weight for the role. Still, she has a sizable, rich, and even tone with beautiful color from top to bottom. She was a pleasure to hear, and she’s a creditable actress, as well.
For much of the evening, the Austrian baritone Markus Werba seemed more a dramatic presence as Papageno than a musical one, giving a completely endearing performance even while sounding a little barky in the first act. He came around vocally, however, finding a silken caramel tone in a charming “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen.” His banquet scene (a floating feast in Taymor’s staging) was comedic gold, and his final “Pa-pa-pa” duet with Papagena (a warmly cooing Ashley Emerson) was simply adorable, helped along by delightful playing from the orchestra.
Toby Spence was another slow starter as the prince errant Tamino, almost inaudible in the opening scene, and his voice sounded hard for a good while thereafter. But he, too, improved as the night went along, showing off a flowing, easy tone by the time he reached his aria at the end of the first act.
René Pape, Monday’s Sarastro, remains a marvel. His voice is so reliable, one might be tempted to check out during his portions and take it for granted that they were flawless, if he weren’t such a commanding presence. It is stunning to hear him fill the auditorium even while standing at the very back of the stage, as he did in the opera’s closing scene.
It is stunning, too, to hear his voice in its full roaring glory when he sings from the apron, which he did for a tenderly spun “In diesen heil’gen Hallen.” He did, though, have an opening-night snafu, forgetting to step downstage until well after the aria began, forcing the curtain to come down while he sang and throwing off the timing of the ensuing set change. Loud clanging and even muffled voices could be heard—it was very difficult not to pay attention to the men behind the curtain, in spite of the excellent work going on in front.
Monostatos is the only character that seems misplaced in this production, a sniveling buffoon who fit in well enough in the family-friendly holiday version presented last year, but seemed entirely irrelevant on Monday, despite a fine effort and taut singing by Mark Schowalter. Amy Shoremount-Obra (in her debut), Renée Tatum, and Margaret Lattimore made a formidable trio as the Queen’s handmaidens, while Connor Tsui, Sebastian Berg, and Andre Gulick sang in tight harmony as the three child-spirits, even if they occasionally got ahead of Fischer.
Die Zauberflöte runs through November 8 at the Metropolitan Opera. Tobias Kehrer will replace René Pape beginning October 21, and Miah Persson will replace Pretty Yende beginning October 25. metopera.org.