Opera Review: The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte)
© The Flash List | April 21, 2012
Performed by The Dallas Opera at Winspear Opera House
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
Conducted by Graeme Jenkins, Staged by Director Matthew Lata
Photos by Karen Almond, Courtesy of The Dallas Opera
Enchantingly delightful, Mozart’s immensely popular comic-drama The Magic Flute is like a wonderfully wacky and mysterious mixture of The Wizard of Oz, The Nutcracker, Shrek, and Sid and Marty Krofft’s HR Pufnstuf. The Singspiel, a sort of opera/play combination with both singing and spoken dialogue, is a whimsical and intriguing tale of love and courage complete with exotic distant lands, damsel in distress, giant fire-spouting serpent, strange religious initiations, as well as lions, a dino and bear, oh my!
Premiering in 1791 at a suburban Vienna theater (to the chagrin of his wife Constanze who considered it demeaning to write for the lower classes), Mozart’s masterpiece was a collaboration with his Masonic brother Emanuel Schikaneder, a well-known singer, actor, comedian, and theater impresario. The result of their efforts is one of the greatest comic operas of all time; and the opening overture alone is so enthralling that, like good trailer previews at the movie theater, it’s easy to get caught up and forget that you’re actually waiting for an even more sublime main event.
Comprised of a set so elaborate that The Dallas Opera had to wait until they moved into the Winspear to accommodate it, this production (originally presented by the Lyric Opera of Chicago) is absolutely ideal for opera lovers as well as first time operagoers of all ages. The Dallas Opera’s Music Director Graeme Jenkins (who was dragged kicking and screaming as a teen to his first opera) vowed to listeners, “I will conduct these performances of Mozart not for all of you who know it so well but for those of you who don’t.”
Lead tenor Shawn Mathey is, according to TDO Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, “simply one of the finest Mozartean tenors in the world.” Mathey learned by imitating his father, a choral conductor and “legitimately fantastic tenor” who would walk through the door after work at night and greet his family by delivering a tenor cadenza, high notes and all. Mathey portrays The Magic Flute’s handsome prince Tamino who encounters the glowing red eyes of a giant beast in the dream-like fairy tale forest. Three comical and flirty women (soprano Caitlin Lynch, mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese, and mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani) come to his aid (think maybe a younger version of the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty), killing the beast with their supernatural powers before debating over which one’s gonna get the guy. The ladies are attendants of The Queen of the Night (Slovakian soprano L’ubica Vargicová) who enters with a bit of Vegas glitz and beseeches the wise and noble Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina who has been kidnapped by Sarastro, the Queen’s arch nemesis, which he is obliged to do after having seen a photo of the lovely maiden.
Tamino is accompanied on his quest by silly sidekick Papageno (pah-pah-gay-no) (the very funny Patrick Carfizzi, bass-baritone), a happy bird catcher whose heart desire simply includes a food supply and a pretty wife. Reluctant from the get-go, Papageno is given a set of silver bells for protection; and the brave Tamino is bequeathed a magic flute that when played has the power to change men’s hearts. But how will Tamino and Papageno know where to look in order to find Pamina? By following the impeccably dressed three-man boys’ choir in the giant ship that’s sailing through the air hoisted by a giant bird of course! Exhorting Tamino to be steadfast, patient, and silent, these three genii were actually played splendidly by three girls (Karen Wemhoener, Zoe Moore, and Mollie Meril).
Sent ahead, Papageno battles the long haired, baggy harem pant clad, oversized oompa-loompa-like slave Monostatos (tenor and opera blogger David Cangelosi who appeared recently in Boris Godunov), mesmerizing him and his gang by shaking the bells which causes them to dance away like puppets, thus freeing Pamina (soprano Ava Pine, original member of The Dallas Opera’s Resident Young Artist program) from Monostatos’ creepy and unwelcome advances of ‘love.’
With certain exposure of their escape attempt looming, and forced now to tell the truth even if it destroys them, Papageno and Pamina encounter the now captured Tamino along with the palace ruler Sarastro (bass Raymond Aceto). Despite his uniquely low, low singing and speaking voice and his smooth portrayal of the sinister Sparafucile in last season’s Rigoletto, Aceto seems in daily life like a regular guy who might be sitting on your row at a Rangers game or on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game. He reminds us of Bob Sturm (a host on local sports talk radio 1310 The Ticket); and we imagine if the Sturminator was an opera singer, he might be something like Raymond Aceto.
In order to join the temple ranks and win Pamina’s hand, Tamino must undergo several trials along with Papageno in order to prove that their minds have enough strength to control their tongues. Chattering incessantly, the fearful Papageno fails miserably, but ends up singing a heartwarming duet with his sweet Papagena (soprano Angela Mannino) anyway; but only after he gets her, loses her, and with a desperate “goodbye, cruel world,” bids adieu and unsuccessfully attempts to off himself. Making Texas references and breaking from the German text to interject English to the audience (followed by German supertitles), Papageno cracked up the audience (even once borrowing a violin from the orchestra)!
Meanwhile, Tamino takes his vow much more seriously, but when Pamina mistakes his silence for a withdrawal of love, she becomes despondent. Even more so when her mother, The Queen of the Night (who chills and charms the audience with the recognizable aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” a song famous for its vocally challenging difficulty) threatens to disown Pamina if she doesn’t kill Sarastro so that the Queen can have his powers. But in the end, (after what lead Ava Pine jokingly refers to as Pamina’s “no good, very bad, awful day”) the harmony of friendship overcomes adversity, and lessons of personal growth lead to moral excellence.
With extraordinary music, amusing creatures, continually moving action, elaborate and frequently changing scenery (including characters and props that appear and disappear through trap doors in the stage floor), and a good-versus-evil quest for honor and integrity, The Dallas Opera’s delightful production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute just may help us all to live a little more happily ever after!
The Magic Flute runs through May 6, 2012 with a running time of approximately three hours including one intermission, and is sung in German with English supertitles. If you haven’t seen the opera and want to read along with the story, supertitles are crucial for this show; so be sure to read our article on Seating at the Winspear for important tips on where to sit in order to see the English translations. You may also wish to attend the live simulcast at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 PM (doors open at 6:00 PM). Reserved seating and parking are FREE; and with over 30,500 tickets having been requested, the showing just may break the record for most attended in US history.
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