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Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE at Washington National Opera

Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE at Washington National Opera The Washington National Opera's (WNO) 2019 - 2020 season opens with Mozart and Schikaneder's easily digestible two-act opera THE MAGIC FLUTE. In a season marked by a series of notably weighty operas, this English-language iteration of THE MAGIC FLUTE is an inviting introduction to the world of opera.

The orchestra, led by Conductor Eun Sun Kim, is, as always, superb.

THE MAGIC FLUTE is the prototypical fairy-tale opera. Low-stakes drama and exaggerated comedy converge with fantastical sets and magical realism. Director Christopher Mattaliano commits to modernizing THE MAGIC FLUTE's sense of humor, and every member of his cast is an exceptional comedic talent.

In Act I, Prince Tamino (David Portillo) is almost killed by a very puffy dragon. He faints and while he is out, the Queen of the Night's three ladies (Alexandria Shiner, Deborah Nansteel, and Meredith Arwady) slay the dragon, gush over his beauty, and leave to inform their Queen of the Prince's arrival.

Enter the hapless bird-catcher Papageno (Michael Adams), a sad and single twenty-something, pining for a "Papagena". At the behest of the Queen of the Night (Kathryn Lewek), Papageno and Tamino team-up to save her daughter Pamina (Sydney Mancasola) from the "evil" shape-shifter Sarastro (Wei Wu).

Aided by the magic flute, goofy Papageno and lovelorn Tamino spend the entirety of Act II getting to know (and like) Sarastro and his council of priests of Isis and Osiris (the always on-point WNO chorus). Aided by the magic flute, Tamino eventually rescues Pamina and Papageno plans a family alongside his Papagena (Alexandra Nowakowski).

Act I flies by in a haze of color and laughter. Conversely, Act II's plot is disjointed and overlong. This may be down to this English-language translation.

There are innumerable winning performances in this production of THE MAGIC FLUTE. Adams' rich baritone, winning smile, and energetic commitment to Papageno (the perennial fan-favorite) is the highlight of THE MAGIC FLUTE. Nowakowski's Papagena, who first appears as a handsy old woman, is the perfect vocal and comedic compliment to Adams' loveably eccentric Papageno .

The Queen of the Night the prototypical operatic diva. Lewek does the Queen justice, handily executing one of the most technically challenging and well-loved arias in opera history: Der Hölle Rache. As the bass Sarastro, Wu is a formidable presence. The Kennedy Center Opera House acoustics do not do justice to the caliber of the WNO vocalists, but fortunately, English-language captions are available.

Compared to their eccentric counterparts, Portillo's Tamino and Mancasola's Pamina are hampered by a damsel-in-distress narrative and dull (if beautiful executed) romantic arias.

THE MAGIC FLUTE's success lies in it's exceptionally talented cast. Aiden Stanton-Brand, Abigail Jamison, and Holden Browne as the trio of child spirits and David Cangelosi as the sex-pest Monastatos are stand out performances.

The production and set for THE MAGIC FLUTE are on loan from the Portland Opera. Realized by Set Designer Neil Peter Jampolis, the scenery is based on the original artwork of Maurice Sendak (the visionary artist best known as the author and illustrator of the children's book Where the Wild Things Are). Seemingly innumerable, larger-than-life set pieces bear his signature whimsical style and add drama to an opera already known for being overtly dramatic. Sendak's art places a premium on allegory and symbolism and leans heavily and playfully into the opera's masonic themes and Enlightenment-era vision of ancient Egypt. The set alone is a the trip to the Kennedy Center.

The magic of the WNO's THE MAGIC FLUTE is that it is captivating for all ages and a tempting proposition for first-timers and opera-buffs alike.

Artists from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program star in the Friday, November 22 performance.

Photo Credit: Michael Adams as Papageno and Alexandra Nowakowski as Papagena in Washington National Opera's 'The Magic Flute' at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Running Time: 3 hours, including one 25-minute intermission.

Warning: Frequent use of strobe lights.

THE MAGIC FLUTE plays through November 23rd at the Washington National Opera located in the Kennedy Center's Opera House at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets click here.

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From This Author - Jenny Minich