Mozart's Modern Magic

Seattle Opera’s current production, Mozart’s lighthearted and musically lush ‘The Magic Flute’ is a zany two-act comedy with a few serious morals thrown in for good measure. I can’t say how much I enjoyed my night at the Opera – it was just, to quote Johnny Mercer: “Too Marvelous for Words.”

I must confess a certain bias – ‘Magic Flute’ is one of my favorite operas of all time. But I must also confess that I was not impressed by the still photographs that Seattle Opera had used on their advertisements. The costumes and sets looked too strange to do proper justice to Mozart’s last operatic hurrah. It is with great joy that I pronounce my worries to have had no basis in fact!

As opera aficionados are no doubt aware, ‘The Magic Flute’ has Masonic undertones, and the number 3 pops up several times. The set designers, Robert Dahlstrom and Robert Schaub, have taken this to heart, basing the entire production around triangular motifs. The entire show, for example, is framed by a giant luminous triangle that changes color to show different settings.

The entire production is highly digital, making use of screen projections, glowing lights, and glow-in-the-dark costumes. This is not a version that could have been mounted 20 years ago, and is one which would be felled entirely by one technical glitch (not unlike the recent problems with the ‘Ring’ at the Met). But thankfully there were no glitches and the futuristic approach worked well.

The costumes further underlined the fantasy approach. Designed by Zandra Rhodes, they were both over the top (the Queen of the Night and her entourage) and strangely apropos. I was particularly amused by the dressing of Sarastro and his chorus in loose yellow pyjamas and birkenstocks – reminiscent of the late 60s and early 70s.

And now, to the juicy bits – the singing itself. As the young hero, Tamino, tenor Jonathan Boyd sang with passion and dignity, though he occasionally was drowned by the sweeping music of the orchestra (under the expressive baton of Gary Thor Wedow). As the girl he sets out to rescue, the lovely young Pamina, soprano Hanan Alattar gave a humorous and authentic voice to her character (the demanding and expressive aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ was heart-wrenchingly gorgeous).

But for me, the real star of the evening (no pun intended) was the Queen of the Night, here sung by the powerful (yet petite) Mari Moriya. Both ‘O zittre nicht’ and ‘Der Hölle Rache’ were tours de force – she received several minutes of applause for each and her curtain call was deafening. I look forward to seeing her again on the Seattle Opera stage.

As the wise father figure Sarastro, Keith Miller was in full, rich voice – his powerful low notes and calming demeanor imbued the character with the proper amount of dignity.

I of course must mention the two trios – the Three Ladies (outrageously garbed, extremely funny, and in excellent voice) and the Three Spirits (noble, otherworldly, yet still a little cute). I especially enjoyed the second act entrance of the ladies, in Day-Glo neon costumes and terrifyingly grotesque masks.

And now, the character Mozart wrote for us everymen and women to identify with – the birdman Papageno. The epitome of human weaknesses and the comic relief in a funny opera, Leigh Melrose was a true delight to watch as he powerfully sung and slap-sticked his way around the stage. He has a rich baritone and the gift of comedic timing. His duet with Papagena (the bright Ani Maldjian) left me in stitches – partly because *SPOILER ALERT* the small children playing their future offspring were so amusingly adorable.

What is there left to say? I will leave you with this quote from the conductor: “The Magic Flute is this wonderful fairy tale, and much of it is completely nonsensical, whimsical, and fantastical.” I couldn’t say it better myself.

Click here for a few ways to utilize the library to aquaint yourself with this wonderful opera.

Evan, Teen Advisory Group

Northeast Branch

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