BWW Reviews: WNO's Eye-Popping MAGIC FLUTE Casts a Musical Spell
One of the most enduring and crowd-pleasing pieces in the opera canon has made a splashy entrance into the Washington National Opera's 2014 season and it is a must see for fans and novices alike.
THE MAGIC FLUTE is a musical fairy tale with stunning effects, a steadfast hero, villains, comic relief, and some of the most sublime music the world has heard. And it's ready to enthrall audiences once again in the Kennedy Center's Opera House.
Didn't I just use the words "most sublime music in the world" in the previous paragraph? Yes, and I think I can safely make that statement since Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart provided the sparking and intricate score. From the effervescent "Overture" - truly one of the best ever composed - to the choral finale - a stunning paean to the sun - Mozart's last full opera score capped his career on more than one high note.
Even though the opera world leans to the composer as the "go-to" person when looking at the great works, Mozart's librettist Emanuel Schikaneder contribution to THE MAGIC FLUTE's place in history cannot be ignored. Schikaneder's delightful fairy tale and lyrical gems match Mozart's music perfectly. For this production, Washington National Opera's dramaturg Kelley Rourke created a fresh and poetic English version. Since the opera is sung in English with projected titles, the clarity of the story shines through beautifully.
When the curtain rises, the adventure is already in high action: hero Tamino is being pursued by a magnificent serpent. Three mysterious ladies assist him in slaying the beast and Tamino is immediately pulled into a plot to rescue a maiden from a secret society. The girl, Pamina, is the daughter of the impressive Queen of the Night. Tamino and his reluctant sidekick, the bird-catcher Papageno, dive in to their quest to save Pamina, and must endure strange tests at the hands of Sarastro, a sorcerer and leader of a secret brotherhood. (Think Freemasons from outer space Egypt. See the opera, see if you agree with me.)
Opera aficionados should be pleased by the fine orchestra work by the WNO Orchestra and the conducting of WNO music director Philippe Auguin. (One caveat: there were some draggy tempi during at least one of Pamina's arias.) The opening night (May 3) cast handled their roles and musical duties with skill and grace. Singing some of Mozart's showiest vocal pieces, soprano Kathryn Lewek brought an imperious presence and clear, high trills to the Queen of the Night. As her daughter Pamina, Maureen McKay combined a charming stage presence with a soprano voice of sweet clarity and sincerity. McKay is the kind of opera singer who gives opera a good name these days - her acting is equal to her musical artistry.
As her rescuer, tenor Joseph Kaiser is another performer who matches a magnificent voice with a natural acting
style. Tamino's story is central to THE MAGIC FLUTE and Kaiser effortlessly carries the day, while sharing the stage with his counterparts like a pro. As his hapless companion Papageno, Joshua Hopkins charms, clowns, and endears himself as the bird-catcher who just wants a wife. Papageno has some of the opera's catchiest tunes and funniest bits, and Hopkins is masterful whether singing in his warm baritone or reacting to the scary tests they must suffer through at the hands of Sarastro.