Superb cast makes Met’s family-friendly “Magic Flute” a charming holiday treat

Sat Dec 17, 2022 at 1:26 pm
By George Grella
Joélle Harvey as Pamina and Joshua Hopkins as Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera’s family-friendly holiday production of The Magic Flute is back as of Friday night, with some new faces and all the familiar, reliable pleasures. 

This is The Magic Flute, not Die Zauberflöte—Mozart’s comic singspiel is sung in English (a fairly colloquial translation by poet J.D. McClatchy) and drastically cut down from two full acts to a continuous flow of scenes that tallies just under two hours. The foundation of all this is Julie Taymor’s celebrated Zauberflöte, production, a dazzling staging with abstract Egyptian and kabuki styles, symbology, fantastic costumes, and graceful—and funny—puppetry.

The look of all this, and the duration, make it easy for kids to get into—a 12 year-old with this writer was constantly dazzled, and all children within view and earshot were fully attentive. 

The talent on stage had much to do with that as well. Ben Bliss, rapidly becoming a leading Mozart tenor, was Tamino, baritone Joshua Hopkins sang Papageno, and soprano Joélle Harvey was Pamina. Bliss and Harvey had the lovely, youthful sound for the parts, and sang Mozart’s phases with a warm, easy quality. They are something like Zeppo in a Marx Brothers movie—the square roles that have the subtly difficult duty of being sweet while also being interesting, and with their singing, they were charming all evening.

Reducing the score (which includes shortening some arias, and cutting the overture and whole scenes and dialogue altogether) rebalances the roles and makes Papageno even more prominent. 

An operatic singer like Hopkins has no problem with the part, made for Mozart’s collaborator, the theatrical performer Emanuel Schikaneder so it’s more about being goofy on stage without being dumb. Hopkins’ Papageno was enough of a kid so that his appetites and mercurialness were appealing to the kids, and enough of a grown up so that his desire to not be alone was understandable.

The vocal debut, and it was a notable one, was Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night. Her arias are, of course, some of the most difficult and specialized in the repertoire, and Olczyk was replacing Kathryn Lewek, whose charisma and incredible performances in the role are seated in memory. 

Olczyk’s first aria was a little disappointing; her articulation was agile but she sounded a bit tight, forcing out the notes in the highest register through a fairly narrow sound. Her second aria was more fluid and spectacular; she had an easy time with the high notes, which were full and open.

The other important role that takes on greater prominence in the different proportions of this production is Sarastro, sung by bass Soloman Howard. He was superb, in some ways the finest performer of the night, with a rich sound and the kind of thought-through musical phasing that makes everything seem to slow down even as it’s right in tempo. With his height and gigantic costume, he took up substantial space on stage but communicated  an easy, benevolent presence.

In this production, Monastatos has the best costume, a combination of kabuki mask, sumo-like bodysuit, and a bat winged cape. Tenor Rodell Rosel’s singing was even better than that, not just hitting all the notes but full of character. 

Soprano Lindsay Ohse was cackling and bouncy as Papagena. The two trios were also quite fine; sopranos and mezzos Jessica Faselt, Megan Marino, and Carolyn Sproule were strong Ladies from the very beginning, and their energy was key to launching the performance. The trio of boy sopranos who sang the spirits, Michael J. Yi, Julian Knopf, and Henry Baker Schiff had a honeyed exactitude.

The other debut was in the pit, with Duncan Ward conducting. With so much of the score cut, the voices are much more prominent than the orchestra, Still, this was an assured performance, with an easy quality to it, seamless with the singers and essential to the pleasures, and pure entertainments, of this seasonal delight.

The Magic Flute continues through January 6.  metopera.org


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