Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
English translation by Jeremy Sams
Conducted by Stuart Bedford
Directed by Michael Gieleta
At Harris Theater
A new production of a classic gets a new translation.
It’s Mozart, it only has another three performances, it’s the first new production in Chicago in 17 years, and it’s being sung in English. What more reason do you need to see The Magic Flute?
For the uninitiated, this would be a fair introduction. For the august attendee, this is an interesting reintroduction. This is the third production of Mozart’s most famous opera in Chicagoland in the last 12 months and speaks to its enduring popularity and accessibility. The aforementioned hook is, of course, that this production is the first sung in English (from its original German). Words are perhaps less important in opera than the music itself, but it’s certainly upped the accessibility several degrees. English supertitles are also included but are not terribly necessary.
The light-hearted tale at the center is sparse but embellished with flourishes of filler. Dark v. Light sees no more obvious a choice for adversaries than the avatars of Night and Day. Prince Tamino (Sean Panikkar, a resplendent tenor) has just been rescued from a mysterious monster by three maidens-in-waiting (Julia Hardin, Leila Bowie, Katherine McGookey). They are servants of The Queen of the Night (the stunning coloratura soprano Emily Hindrichs, replacing Claudia Boyle). Smitten, the Queen reveals to Tamino a magical portrait of her daughter Pamina (Elizabeth Reiter, a sweet and affecting soprano), and the prince falls in love with the vision of beauty. Pamina has been kidnapped by the supposedly evil Sarastro (Grigory Soloviov, a sometimes difficult to comprehend bass). Tamino’s is set on a quest to find her, aided by the lovesick bird-catcher Papageno (baritone Markus Beam). Together they suffer trials and tribulations in their pursuit of wisdom and love, aided always by their magical flute and bells. There’s buffoonery and morality mingled in this classic libretto all set to Mozart’s transcendent score. Despite all the talent on stage, it’s Hindrichs’ Queen who steals the show despite the brevity of her time, hitting soaring Fs with seeming ease while Stuart Bedford conducts the orchestra with a playful gusto and a responsive momentum.
Make no mistake, this is a more postmodern visual interpretation than is typically seen in a show as fluffy as Flute. Set design by James Macnamara is sparse and themed in the “music of the spheres,” with gray planets dangling throughout the stage like a gothic Christmas tree and set against a swirling nebula. An eclectic costume mash-up by Gregory Gale draws inspiration from several periods: Roman-style hare krishna togas, fascist army uniforms, and Baroque sculpture. A few touches, like the ladies’ wings, are distractingly ridiculous. Director Michael Gieleta has eschewed many of the more precious elements such as the animals that fall under the flutes spell (typically appealing to children in the audience) for a more austere staging that elevates the ham-handed morality of the work. This may or may not be off-putting to viewers expecting the kind of magical spectacle as seen in the Lyric’s December ‘11 production.
Whether this is your first touch of Magic or one of several, this is a unique experience to be had. I normally seek to memorize an opera in a foreign language before going in to avoid having to overly rely on the supertitles. This is pleasantly unnecessary here, with Sam’s translation retaining much of the simple poetry of Schikaneder’s libretto with only a few awkward rhymes feeling shoehorned in. Of course, its always been Mozart that overshadowed the words or the story and no more superlatives exist to describe his works. Chicago Opera Theater has done a fine job adapting and updating this work for a 21st century audience. This Flute is enchanting in any language.
Date Reviewed: September 15, 2012
For more info checkout The Magic Flute page on www.chicagooperatheater.org
At Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, Chicago 60601, call 312.704.8414, or www.chicagooperatheater.org, tickets $25-125, September 19 and September 21, 7:30pm, September 23, 3pm. Running time is 2 hours 45 minutes with one 20 minute intermission, through September 23.