The Metropolitan Opera on DVD – Mozart’s The Magic Flute – Polenzani, Huang, Gunn, Pape / Taymor / Levine [Sony Classical]

0 of 5 stars

The Magic Flute – an abridgement of Die Zauberflöte, K620 [Singspiel in two acts to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder; sung in an English translation by J. D. McClatchy with English subtitles]

Tamino – Matthew Polenzani
First Lady – Wendy Bryn Harmer
Second Lady – Kate Lindsey
Third Lady – Tamara Mumford
Papageno – Nathan Gunn
Queen of the Night – Erika Miklósa
First Slave – Stephen Paynter
Second Slave – Kenneth Floyd
Third Slave – Gregory Cross
Monostatos – Greg Fedderley
Pamina – Ying Huang
First Spirit – Bennett Kosma
Second Spirit – Jesse Burnside Murray
Third Spirit – Jacob A. Wade
Speaker – David Pittsinger
Sarastro – René Pape
First Priest – Brian Davis
Second Priest – Tony Stevenson
Papagena – Jennifer Aylmer
First Guard – Michael Myers
Second Guard – Robert Lloyd

Ballet, Chorus & Orchestra of The Metropolitan Opera
James Levine

Julie Taymor – Production
George Tsypin – Set designer
Julie Taymor – Costume designer
Donald Holder – Lighting designer
Julie Taymor & Michael Curry – Puppet designers
Mark Dendy – Choreographer

Recorded in 2006 at The Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

Gary Halvorson – Video Director

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: January 2012
88697910139 [DVD]
Duration: 1 hour 52 minutes



The name Julie Taymor, plastered all over the credits for this MET Opera DVD, raises expectations of an acrylic-coloured fantasy world peopled by oversized comic-book puppets. And so it proves. For this truncated version of Die Zauberflöte (around 40 minutes of Mozart’s music has been jettisoned) the renowned stage director of The Lion King collaborated with Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine on a musically and scenically fabulous experience that has become a modern classic. It would be hard to imagine a more child-friendly introduction to an art form too often seen as forbidding and unapproachable, and I only hope that the thousands of youngsters who have thrilled to this Magic Flute (not to mention the many more who will discover it now through the medium of DVD) will find other opera productions to fuel their imaginations.

“Why all this hullabaloo?” asks the bird-catcher in J. D. McClatchy’s matey translation; but despite such colloquialisms it would be wrong to dismiss this English-language abridgement as ‘one for the kids’. For a start, the singing in this 2006 revival (two years after the production first saw the light of day) is terrific. At the dynamic extremes, Erika Miklósa (Queen of the Night) and René Pape (Sarastro) sing effortlessly and thrillingly, with a charisma that transcends the indignity of their outlandish outfits. No wonder Claudio Abbado cast both these singers for the same roles in his DG recording of the opera.

From Matthew Polenzani there is something of Siegfried about the über-heroic, samurai-attired Tamino. In his voice, too. Ying Huang is an affecting Pamina, warmly lyrical, while a prosthetically fattened Greg Fedderly enjoys himself hugely as a grotesque – and decidedly Caucasian – Monostatos. As for Nathan Gunn, not only does he bring a firm, burnished baritone to Papageno’s music, he also proves his chops as an athletic comic actor and steals every scene he’s in (though I’m not sure about Taymor’s notion of using his codpiece for a mouth-gag).

It’s rare to find an opera production blest with such inventiveness and joy. The epic visual impact of Taymor’s creation is achieved through the simplest of means. Puppetry, as old as the hills, is combined with cartoon-influenced costumes and giant, geometric scenic elements to create a visual feast. A phalanx of black-clad puppeteers is seldom absent yet rarely noticed amid the gallery of Maurice Sendak beasts and Muppet-like creatures, and the whole complex exercise unfolds with a confident, harmonious wit. Most memorable of all are the Queen of the Night’s moth-wings and a trio of giant, diaphanous polar bears … but no, the felicities are too numerous to mention. If the soul of Mozart and Schikaneder’s Singspiel is lost amid the spectacle – as it unquestionably is – the production’s ingenuity more than compensates through its heart, humour and joie de vivre.

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