Tenor Charles Castronovo as Prince Tamino with Julie Taymor’s bear puppets in the 2017 Metropolitan Opera production of Die Zauberflöte.
I’m not much of an opera person. Give me an American musical with its snappy song and dance.
It’s hard to outdo Nancy Kwan in the 1961 movie of Flower Drum Song. Here’s “Grant Avenue”:
Want something more recent? Try Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton‘s “My Shot”:
Now having stated my preference, I have to say I loved the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcast of Mozart’s The Magic Flute I saw this past Saturday in North Carolina. I was so glad to have been invited by wonderful friend Kristine Stiles.
In 2006 the Met began its Live in HD program where it broadcasts in movie theaters around the world live performances of selected operas. You feel as if you’re almost there in the opera house, and what you miss in live vibe is more than made up for in the close-ups you get of the orchestra and the singers plus the intermission interviews backstage with members of the cast, the production crew and the opera managers.
This production is spectacular – literally a spectacle created by Julie Taymor. She likes to put heads on heads, as she does here in her production of The Lion King on Broadway:
In The Magic Flute the Three Ladies have detachable heads they wave around to dreamy effect:
The set design is at every moment spectacular (still the exact word). Here is the staging near the final scene:
The guy in the center is Sarastro, presumably the sun god, sung by magnificent bass René Pape.
The various sets, with their gilded busyness, curviness and extravagant lighting with touches of Egyptian shtick, reminded me at many points of the interior of a Cheesecake Factory:
Other famous set designers for this opera include Marc Chagall:
A 1967 performance at the Met
and David Hockney:
A 1981 production at the Met
In the current production, the role of the comic bird catcher Papageno is sung by baritone Markus Werba, and he is fantastic, truly a delight to watch and hear:
Here he is in a fanciful – which is to say drunken – state, dreaming of meeting his Papagena.
The absolute show stealer is the aria in Act Two by the Queen of the Night, sung by the coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek.
It’s also the background music in the video, posted below.
We both got chills listening to her. I can’t sing a note, so it’s stunning to me to consider how much vocal control this particular aria requires. Superhuman!
This opera premiered in Vienna in 1791. There is a reason it is still being performed over 200 years later – but not because of the plot, which is a bit of mess. I didn’t even know it was supposed to take place in Egypt until well into Act One when mention is first made of Isis and Osiris. I got a hieroglyph-y sense from the set, but Tamino’s outfit and makeup – see title image – made me think he was a samurai, but I was pretty sure the opera wasn’t set in Japan. Obviously, real opera-goers already know the deal. Not me!
The coolest thing I learned from the interviews at intermission came at the end when the hostess said, “Toi, toi, toi” to the singers who were going back out for Act Two. That’s opera-ese for “Break a leg!”
Although you missed the October 14th performance, you can catch the holiday encore on either December 12th or 16th. The performance we heard was sung in German with subtitles. In December it will be sung in English. For more information and great visuals, click:
I will definitely go to more Live in HD performances. Here’s the 2017-2018 season schedule:
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen