by Alice Bloch -
SGN A&E Writer
THE MAGIC FLUTE
BY WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
LIBRETTO BY EMANUEL SCHIKANDER
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
Sunday, May 7
Sunday Matinee Cast:
5/7, 5/10, 5/14, 5/19 & 5/21)
Although The Magic Flute contains some of Mozart's loveliest music, it is far from being my favorite Mozart opera. But that's almost beside the point, because the production now onstage at Seattle Opera is colorful, imaginative, fun, thoroughly delightful, not to be missed - and it finds ingenious ways to mitigate the misogyny that permeates the libretto and the pomposity that threatens to bog down the second half of the opera.
In this revival of his 2011 Seattle Opera production, stage director Chris Alexander has kept the visual freshness and vitality of the original, while improving upon conceptual aspects of the drama. Zandra Rhodes's charming, sparkly costumes still inspire smiles, as do Robert Dahlstrom and Robert Schaub's elegant sets and Jonathan Dean's excellent English captions. (Who can resist the mention of 'fake news' and the line 'That won't be happening'?)
Adorable animals! Equally adorable children with green hair! A queen clothed in the night sky! Three Spirits riding around on scooters and wearing curly orange wigs, shiny silver shorts, and winged high-top sneakers! Temple guards in iridescent disco armor! A blue meanie who can dance! What could be better?
The music, that's what! From the first note of the overture, conductor Julia Jones led a performance of extraordinary clarity and rhythmic propulsion. The fugue that accompanied the Armored Men's duet was particularly impressive. In this opera, the woodwinds are all-important, and they delivered. Special praise is due principal flutist Jeffrey Barker, principal oboist Ben Hausmann, clarinetists Benjamin Lulich and Laura DeLuca, and principal bassoonist Paul Rafanelli.
In the Sunday matinee performance I attended, the singers were uniformly superb. Soprano Amanda Forsythe as Pamina gave chills with her beautifully soft, high notes in the sad aria 'Ach, ich fühl´s.' As Sarastro, the leader of the Freemason-inspired brotherhood, bass Ante Jerkunica injected life into a generally boring role.
The most exciting performance is always that of the Queen of the Night, and soprano Christine Poulitis brought flaming stars and fireworks to the role. Her voice is a bit harsh, but she hit every note straight-on, including the stratospheric high Fs, and she conveyed effectively the fierce attitude of deposed royalty.
As Tamino, tenor Randall Bills sang well but acted stiffly. By contrast, baritone Craig Verm had a field day with the role of Papageno, a man driven by appetites, fears, and basic needs. Soprano Amanda Opuszynski also gave a zesty performance as his mate Papagena.
The Three Ladies (Jacqueline Piccolino, Nian Wang, and Jenni Blank) were sly and sexy, and sang with exquisite harmony. The other threesome - the Three Spirits - couldn't have been cuter, and couldn't have sung more sweetly. Of the six singers portraying the Three Spirits in the two casts, five have been members of the Seattle Opera Youth Chorus. Based on their performances, the future of Seattle Opera looks bright.
In the relatively small role of Monostatos (the blue meanie), Rodell Rosel commanded the audience's attention whenever he appeared, cavorting and dancing around the stage with villainous glee. What a performer!
The world view of the opera - that men are rational and forgiving, and bring light to the world, while women are emotional and vindictive, and represent the forces of darkness - couldn't be more abhorrent today. Fortunately, Chris Alexander steered that message toward satire, and altered the ending of the opera so that the forces of light and darkness were united. It's a good ending to a great show.
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