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BWW Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE makes a triumphant return to Toronto

The Canadian Opera Company's latest staging of their 2011 production runs through May 21

BWW Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE makes a triumphant return to Toronto

If you've ever wanted to experience Mozart's work live, there's no time like the present to do so in Toronto. The Canadian Opera Company has brought their acclaimed production of THE MAGIC FLUTE back - delayed after a few years of theatre shut-downs, but better late than never in the case of this fantastical, funny, and thought-provoking story.

Coming in at just under three hours including a 25-minute intermission, THE MAGIC FLUTE is a long watch. Thankfully its cast of powerful performers and its eye-catching staging help make the countless discussions of wisdom, love and truth a bit more engaging.

The Canadian Opera Company has presented this production of the beloved Mozart comedy before, originally in 2011 and most recently in 2017. Anna Theodosakis directs the 2022 installment (originally directed by Diane Paulus), with Patrick Lange conducting. Under Lange, Mozart's music swells with all the vigor required to support the adventure of the story, and easily dips into softer territory to really let the singers' voices shine. Principal flautist Douglas Stewart handles the demands of bringing the titular magic flute's music to life beautifully, and piccoloist Shelley Brown provides the charming melodies for the birdcatcher's pan flute.

What keeps this story from being so off-the-wall at times is the choice to set it as a play-within-a-play (or opera, in this case). The overture opens to a garden party full of nobility, staff, and actors as they make final preparations for opening night. The choice to do so sets the tone immediately - this is meant to be a fun, exciting evening for the actors and audience on stage, which in turn helps settle the actual audience in for a charming evening at the theatre.

Act one sees the introduction of Tamino (Ilker Arcayürek), a handsome prince who's saved mid-battle by The Three Ladies (Jamie Groote, Charlotte Siegal, Lauren Segal). Joining in soon after is the simple birdcatcher Papageno (Gordon Bintner), and eventually it's revealed that the Queen of the Night (Caroline Wettergreen) needs Tamino's help to rescue her daughter Pamina (Anna-Sophie Neher). The Queen gifts Tamino with a magic flute and Papageno with silver bells, and sends them on their way under the guidance of three spirits (CCOC members Katie Lair, Samantha Weisdorf, Derin Su Firat). From there, they end up in the realm of Sarastro (David Leigh) and learn they must undertake three trials to be allowed to leave with Pamina.

It's in the second act where Tamino and Papageno actually undertake the trials - or rather, the first trial. There's a huge amount of time dedicated to this first trial, and all the drama of the two men and the full ensemble around it, that it ends up being the only one that's really expanded on. Later, the trials by fire and water are beautifully staged, but don't seem to have the same gravitas to them just given how little time is spent on their completion. The entire performance ends with a jovial group scene, inclusive of the show's antagonists, but they don't feel out of place given that it's been established that they're all actors and friends outside of their roles.

As the storybook prince-esque lead, Arcayürek is a solid Tamino. His voice is steady, strong, and blends wonderfully with any and all of the other performers. Neher's Pamina is, simply put, lovely - it's impossible not to care for the character, as Neher's clear yet emotive voice helps build the multifaceted heroine from her introduction onwards. Singing some of the most well known repertoire works, Wettergreen's Queen of the Night is a powerful presence, and her voice more than lives up to the demand of one of opera's most famous arias.

Bintner makes for a fantastic Papageno - his rich baritone easily covers the vocal requirements of the role, and his expressiveness makes for a hilarious, empathetic, and easy to love birdcatcher. In a story full of so many characters, and with even more ensemble members supporting, there is no weak link in this cast. Arriving late as Papageno's sweetheart Papagena (Midori Marsh), Marsh is a breath of fresh air in the final scenes of the production. The Three Ladies establish the tone early on with their easy harmony and silly bickering over an unconscious Tamino. Leigh provides a steadfast Sarastro, well suited to the character, and as his servant Monostatos (Michael Colvin) Colvin is a dynamic presence on stage.

The creative team shines in creating a fantastical world for these characters to act out this story (set and costume design by Myung Hee Cho). Large, moving hedges create several different locations, and a rich blue background is accented perfectly by crystalline curtains that mimic the beauty of a starry night sky. Costumes fit the theme perfectly as if they were pulled from a storybook and the inclusion of white animal puppets, worn by ensemble actors, made for one of the prettiest scenes in the production. A hilarious early bit with a sheet of metal makes way for impressive storms later on, inclusive of booming thunder courtesy of the orchestra and bright flashes of lightning (lighting design by Scott Zielinski).

All in all, this re-staging of the Canadian Opera Company's THE MAGIC FLUTE is a whimsical take on a story that could be quite dense, given the amount of time characters spend contemplating more abstract themes like wisdom and love. The attention to detail in terms of the wider staging, set design, and aesthetics go hand in hand with the care injected into each role by the cast. Lange leads the orchestra through Mozart's sweeping compositions, proving that there really is no replacement for live music. To put it simply, this MAGIC FLUTE is one that whisks both its characters and audience away into a magical world for a few hours and thankfully, even as the curtain falls, the magic doesn't seem to fade.


The Canadian Opera Company's THE MAGIC FLUTE runs through May 21 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.coc.ca/productions/23090

Photo credit: Michael Cooper



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