Review by PAT THORPE for www.allotsego.com
“The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” “Cosi fan Tutti” – in five years, Mozart and collaborator Lorenzo Da Ponte produced one hit show after another and changed the shape of opera forever.
But by 1791, Da Ponte was gone and Mozart began working with friend and fellow Freemason Emmanuel Schikaneder on a comic fairy tale for the general public, not just the Viennese elite, a return to the singspiel form of some of Mozart’s early works, using German with spoken dialogue and broad slapstick comedy.
The music ranges from rustic folk songs to tinkling glockenspiel, melting romantic melodies to spectacular coloratura that still challenges singers today.
The Glimmerglass Festival’s new “Magic Flute” is a thorough updating and reworking of Mozart’s classic. Kelley Rourke, Glimmerglass’ adept dramaturge, has produced a swiftly moving English translation that is both witty and poetic.
Gone are the unintelligible references to Freemason myth and ritual, replaced here by the religion of scientific exploration. Gone are the sexist and racist attitudes of the original, replaced by welcome themes of diversity and the redemptive power of natural beauty.
The time is the present, although the setting is timeless. As director Madeline Sayet explains, “Our ‘Magic Flute’ is not a journey to a fantastical other world, but a way of looking more deeply into the real place we live in, the woods around Glimmerglass, if only you open your eyes wide enough.”
The trees on stage will definitely open your eyes; created by set designer Troy Hourie, they are a dominant feature of the production, resourceful and very active.
The “Magic Flute” plot is the classic hero’s journey from confusion to enlightenment, with challenges from monsters (human and otherwise), aid from sidekicks, failures of faith, and a beautiful girl in need of rescue.
The opera’s hero, Tamino, ably brought to life by tenor Sean Panikkar, is a handsome, square-jawed master of the urban universe lost in the woods. His reluctant sidekick Papageno, a hunter hilariously outfitted in camouflage and blaze orange, is played by Ben Edquist with such irresistibly funny physical comedy that you hardly notice what a fine voice he has.
Pamina, our heroine, is trapped in a particularly modern situation, the focus of a bitter custody battle between her mother, the villainous Queen of the Night, and the enigmatic Sarastro, an impressive Soloman Howard.
Jacqueline Echols, a feisty but also poignant Pamina, is back for her third season at Glimmerglass, this time as a star, bringing grace and spirit and a rich soprano to her role. So Young Park, a diabolical beauty as the Queen, hurls her high Fs like lightning bolts.
This is a thoroughly family friendly production, an inviting opportunity for newcomers to enter the world of opera, as well as the world of the forest. The supporting cast and the (mostly offstage) chorus are uniformly excellent, energetic and appealing. As always, Mozart’s music is sublime. Add to that a stage full of lively trees and vibrant young performers and Glimmerglass has a completely magical new “Flute.”