THE MAGIC FLUTE with Magic Realism
It’s Act II, Scene 3, and The Queen of the Night (coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek) is roiling with vengeance and instructing her daughter to murder her enemy. Her voice fills the vast Civic Opera hall space with leaps and trills that tickle ears in the upper balconies and reach to tapping toes in the orchestra pit, and everywhere in between. We are supposed to hate her, but actually, we just can’t get enough.
This is Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, overflowing with melodies, arias, duets, trios, quartets and the choral equivalent of snuggly comforters. More, this is “The Magic Flute” bottling the imagination of a freshly bathed five year-old in their Doctor Dentons snuggling in your lap, looking up with wide eyes and imploring you to make up a story ,saying, “Let’s Make Pretend”.
And pretend we do, or for the boomers and boomers plus in the crowd, recall with smiles, as the story unfolds in the imagined simpler times of 60’s America portrayed in TV sitcoms.
A suburban home turns on a not-so-lazy Susan, as neighbors arrive to watch what might be the neighborhood block party’s talent show, put together by the neighborhood kids. A ubiquitous teen directs, tending to props, scene changes and ever reminding us of the imaginative magic realistic frame of this production, until he drops in exhaustion with the ouevre’s final curtain. One might come to think that this precocious teen is actually Stephen Spielberg in the weeks before he got his first camera and started work on his masterpiece, “ET- The Opera”. More likely, he is Australian Director Neil Armfield’s avatar, ever prodding us to just roll with the fatuous plot lines and parable and enjoy the music in his uber-creative magic realism frame.
And how could you not enjoy this music- a Mozart masterpiece conducted so ably by Rory Macdonald?? Audience favorite Kathryn Lewek is just one of many strong voices in this cast. Christiane Karg as princess Pamina‑the love object of Tamino (Andrew Staples), Adam Plachetka as Papageno, and Christof Fischesser as Sarastro are especially compelling. The sweet soprano voices of the three Genies (Casey Lyons, Parker Scribner and Asher Alcantara), combined with the ever-present feeling that they are just kids from the ‘hood, make them the poster boys of this production for sure. Fresh -faced seeming Staples reminds of a young Matthew Broderick playing Ferris Bueller on his day off, which at times adds to the charm of his performance, but perhaps at other times doesn’t. Then again, he is a lightweight male who falls in love with the princess with one glance, while she speaks with depth and gravitas about love.
Charming Costumes and Set
That’s actually a rare positive light on womankind, in contrast to the overall misogyny-studded libretto. Even the fiercest feminists in the crowd probably won’t mind however, but instead just burst into an occasional tittering giggle, largely thanks to the another talent from Down Under‑Costume and Set Designer Dale Ferguson‑ that Armfield has brought along to add to this production’s charms. Not only does Ferguson give us a period perfect twirling 60’s suburban style house, but also a parade of fun costuming that is guaranteed to bring out the smiles, especially when cast and supernumeraries garbed as wild animals are tamed by the magic music. To detail some of these costumes would perhaps be a spoiler. Suffice it to say that this could be a new fashion born in the twirling house’s basement called “Rec Room Couture”. And, anyone who remembers those black and white grainy episodes of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” is sure to get a smile by the costumes and gestures of the Isis and Osiris loving cult when they parade with pomp and circumstance.
If you’ve seen Blair Thomas’ puppets before, know he does not disappoint here either. Choreographer Denni Sayers is masterful in keeping the cast’s movements clunky enough to remind they are just neighbors in costumes, and on the other end, giving triple threat Rodelll Rosel playing the villain Monastatos the moves that take advantage of his obviously innate spry.
Pre-Concert Lecture- Highly Recommended
You can read in the program notes at great length about how “The Magic Flute” was Mozart’s homage to free masonry. Better, go to the pre-concert lecture by David Buch sponsored by Lyric Unlimited and learn about the real-world friends of Mozart for whom he was composing. Buch, not only gives you background on the opera but can barely contain himself from mouthing the arias, strumming along with the cellos, and raising his eyebrows at the exquisite beauty of the flute refrains. That he has been devoting himself to studying “The Magic Flute” for more than three decades and still is so obviously swept away by the score tells you most about what you really need to know.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for opera diehards and neophytes alike.
Performance dates for The Magic Flute are Dec. 10, 12, 14, Jan. 6, 14, 17, 27 at 7:30pm; and Jan. 8, 12, 22, 25 at 2:00pm.
There is a free 30-minute pre-performance talk in the theater starting an hour before each performance.
Running time is approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes, with 1 intermission.
Civic Opera House
20 North Wacker
For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/Flute.
Slider Photos: Todd Rosenberg and Andrew Cioffi
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago