In his first season as the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb inaugurated an abridged, English-language version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute aimed at families during the holiday season. Since then, the whimsical production by Julie Taymor has been performed over thirty times, and here is as fresh as ever with an enchanting cast of young singers. Taymor, who directed The Lion King on Broadway, breathes life into Mozart’s fairy-tale with incredibly life-like puppetry and eye-popping colorful costumes. George Tsypin’s set features translucent walls rearranged to conjure different settings, further adding to the fantasy.
With its young audience in mind, the Met has cut nearly an hour of music and sacrifices some of the work’s most masterful writing. Additionally, seeming to likewise have an eye on the clock, Antony Walker sped through the score, stripping the meditative aria ‘Within our sacred temple’ of its solemnity and rushing the fiery coloratura for the Queen of the Night.
Forgoing Mozart’s Overture, The Magic Flute opens as Tamino flees a ferocious serpent. Ben Bliss sang with a warm, inviting tone that blossomed into bright top notes. As an actor, he had few opportunities to bring much depth to the part, as the abridged version further limits Mozart’s already simple characterization.
Janai Brugger brought a fluttering, graceful soprano to Pamina, the object of Tamino’s rescue mission. Her voice has clarity and plush lyricism, and her achingly beautiful rendition of ‘Oh, my heart is hung with sadness’ stopped time.
The audience favorite was Christopher Maltman’s endearing portrayal of the chirpy bird-catcher Papageno. Maltman’s crisp singing and impeccable diction lent great musicality to the jaunty melodies. With exaggerated physicality he bounced around the stage with unflagging energy and won peals of laughter for his snappy delivery of the dialogue.
Morris Robison imbued Sarastro with great dignity, singing with robust timbre and a velvety top. Jessica Pratt was the vindictive Queen of the Night, projecting intense fury as she tossed off crystalline high notes with ease. Robert Brubaker’s piercing tenor was effective as the lecherous slave Monostatos, and Dísella Lárusdóttir was an adorable Papagena.
As the chilling temperatures continued to drop outside, this delightful holiday romp certainly warmed the hearts of the many children in attendance – and the grown-ups too.