This production of Mozart’s Masonic fairy tale Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is truly spectacular – then again, the director is the visionary Julie Taymor who can do “spectacular” in her sleep. Mark Dendy’s choreography brings some real sexiness to the proceedings, and the singers in this Metropolitan Opera production are quite wonderful (more about a couple of them in a minute). And Mozart is without a doubt one of the best opera composers of all time. So why did I find this production oddly deflating?
Upon reflection, I realized the culprit was the libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. It wasn’t as good as I remembered: its attitude towards women is terribly misogynistic, even for the 18th Century, and the part of the libretto that had lived so strongly in my memory, its mysticism, now seems thin and a little false. So, the opera hasn’t changed, but I have – I ask a lot more from mystics than I did as a teenager.
The good news: Mozart wrote more beautifully for woman’s voices than almost any other composer, so Schikaneder’s stereotyped lyrics for the big arias are transformed into fully human moments. Sometimes more than human: the Queen of the Night’s second-act showstopper “Der Hölle Rache” is the articulate, even elegant scream of a wronged goddess. We are in the land of mythic archetypes here, and soprano Kathryn Lewek delivers a hair-raising performance with immaculate technique and chilling precision.
So too, when our heroine Pamina laments her alienation from her love Tamino, her aria “Ach, Ich Fühl’s”, Mozart fills the moment with real ache. And again, the soprano charged with signing it in this production, Miah Persson, gives it a full, beautiful reading. I recommend this production, even if the opera itself isn’t all I remembered.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.