Met serves up a feast of fine singing in its family “Magic Flute”

Wed Dec 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm
Christopher Maltman as Papageno in the Metropolitan Opera production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Photo: Ken Howard

Christopher Maltman as Papageno in the Metropolitan Opera production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Photo: Ken Howard

A sold-out crowd packed the auditorium on Tuesday for the season premiere of The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a younger audience than usual for the popular family-oriented holiday offering though perhaps not as young as the programmers had in mind–at least in the orchestra, there were a good number of late teens and twenty-somethings. Apparently, no one is too old for a fanciful romp set to Mozart’s timeless music.

Cut down to an hour and forty minutes, Julie Taymor’s 2004 production, now a house favorite, trips nimbly through Emmanuel Schikaneder’s libretto, focusing the action and providing a visual feast with its colorful sets and fanciful puppets. Though the overture is greatly missed, for the most part the cuts to the piece are unobtrusive, leaving most of the essential material intact while not feeling bloated for lack of intermission. J. D. McClatchy’s English libretto, like his work for the Met’s holiday Barber of Seville, is a commendable translation, finding its own internal logic while faithfully representing the text and showing considerable deference to the needs of the music.

It is a credit to the Met’s commitment to this annual tradition that the company does not skimp on its casting just because children are in the house. Leading the revival cast as Papageno is Christopher Maltman, whose rich, velvety baritone positively booms in the role. He is a delight to watch onstage, perfectly channeling the goofish innocence of the boisterous birdcatcher.

Ben Bliss was outstanding as Tamino, meeting all the vocal demands of his role without betraying any effort. His light, ringing sound is ideal for the prince, and he combined earnest feeling with innate lyrical sense in his singing. Pamina suffers from the cuts somewhat more than the other leading parts, but still left Janai Brugger enough opportunity to show a lovely, amber tone and quick vibrato in her tearful aria “Ach, ich fühl’s,” (here rendered as “O, my heart”), when she fears Tamino has forsaken her.

Making her company debut, Jessica Pratt acquitted herself admirably as the Queen of the Night, flashing accurate, rapid coloratura in her two signature arias and cutting an imposing figure onstage. For her spiritual counterweight, the sage Sarastro, Morris Robinson’s viscous, luxurious bass was a perfect fit—it’s rare to hear a singer who can bring so much vocal weight to bear even on the low notes of “O Isis and Osiris.”

Antony Walker’s reading of the score was superb, drawing shining tone out of the orchestra and maintaining a crisp character with his tight ensemble and brisk tempos. The Met chorus gleamed whenever it was called upon.

Dísella Làrusdóttir was an endearing Papagena, relishing her comic mischief when disguised as an old hag. When she finally pulled off the veil, she sported a sweet voice in the duet with her feathered love, some of the most innocently bewitching music Mozart ever wrote.

As the three child sages, Daniel Katzman, Misha Grossman, and Dylan Hansen Hamme made an excellent impression, singing with beaming accuracy and staying perfectly true in their tricky harmonies. Hardly a villain of Shakespearean imagination in Schikaneder’s original libretto, Monastatos is reduced mostly to a comic whipping post in this show, a walking wart. But Robert Brubaker accepted his assignment with glee, lasciviously rubbing his belly and even displaying an unusually robust tenor for the role. Shenyang showed off an enormous, rich barrel of a voice as the Speaker.

With its dancing bears, levitating lunches, and flitting flamingos, this may not the most satisfying production for viewers who want a darker, deeper take on the piece; but for a young audience, the abridged Taymor staging is an enchanting entrance portal into opera for the first time. For adults and children alike, it’s an opportunity to bask again in Mozart’s genius once again.

The Magic Flute runs through January 5 at the Metropolitan Opera. Kathryn Lewek sings the role of the Queen of the Night December 26 through January 2, and Caitlyn Lynch appears as Pamina on December 29.

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