Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Libretto by Emmanuel Schikaneder
Metropolitan Opera House, NYC
A lavish and imaginative theatrical production introducing bright and youthful colours with conjured images of animals and birds enchant the visual senses in Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte. This production opened in the Met in October 2004.
Taymor, the award-winning director, producer and puppet designer, best known for the roaring success of the musical The Lion King, together with her creative team of set designer George Tsypin, lighting designer Donald Holder, puppet-masters herself and Michael Curry and choreographer Mark Dendy generated a world where translucent geometrical shapes embrace an almost surreal world. It is a reality where love, revenge, blind hatred and wisdom influence events. Here childhood and maturity, humour and anxiety, innocence and wisdom conjoin and are brought to a triumph of sensibility through the agency of wisdom. Taymor expands on the theme of struggle between the forces of light and darkness through the medium of colours where the vibrant yellow-sun colour dominates in the last scene, Sarastro's Palace of Wisdom.
The creative team skillfully incorporates Egyptian themes such as pyramids and other shapes into the setting, in line with Schikaneder's libretto which specifies Egypt as the location of the action. However, the funfair atmosphere in this production takes away something of the earnest conflict between good and evil. This is a fantastic world where evil is somewhat trivialised. Any suggestion of menace is drowned in humour. The Three Ladies in the retinue of the Queen of the Night - Wendy Bryn-Harmer, Maria Zifchak and Wendy White - carry large masks which distract rather than stimulate. None of the three excelled in either singing or acting. It is left to Anna-Kristina Kaappola as the Queen of the Night to carry the dark side. Kaappola had to perform against a carnival-like atmosphere, making her task rather arduous. There was nothing menacing about her demeanour, though she managed to carry the high F in the famous and demanding aria Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen when she thrusts a dagger on Pamina, ordering her to kill Sarastro.
Unlike the rich and innovative theatrical frills, the Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, gives a run-of-the-mill performance. The score's mystical nature was left unfathomed. Diana Damrau as Pamina, the Queen of the Night's daughter, was the star of this production, as a scintillating soprano. However, there were elements in her costume and acting that were reminiscent of Judi Garland's Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz.
Stephane Degout (bass) gave a superb performance as Papageno, the birdcatcher. His sense of timing and his miming were top notch. Pamina and Papageno's duet in the ode to love Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen breathes emotion and human warmth which are lucking in Tamino's early love aria Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön. Tamino, sung by Eric Cutler, gave a moderately convincing sense of his part, especially when undergoing the trials set to him by Sarastro. Sarastro, performed by Reinhard Hagen, was somewhat dwarfed by the setting. His tone lacked the power and authority of the presence of the figure he is meant to represent.
At the performance I attended on 1st November 2007 the auditorium was packed. Children in their early teens seemed engrossed in this 3 hours and 15 minutes production. This surely should be the best testimony that this production has charm and alluring magic.
Philip Fisher also reviewed this production with a slightly different cast
Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson