That perennial favorite of most opera houses, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, is getting a gorgeous production at the Los Angeles Opera. Though it was last performed here in 1993, this production, staged by Stanley M. Garner and based on Peter Hall’s original production, seems fresh, as light as one of Papageno’s feathers, and very welcome in these trying times. We will get plenty of the heavy stuff when the LA Opera begins its first Ring Cycle later in the season. For now this opera, which celebrates hope, love, responsibility, and imagination, seems in tune with the festivities of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
I had seen the now-famous Julie Taymor production from the Metropolitan Opera when it was broadcast last season. Taymor's production was delightful, of course, but this one, designed by the great illustrator Gerald Scarfe, more than holds its own. The staging is simpler, mainly due to spatial limitations, but the result is simple and lets us concentrate on Mozart's glorious score and Scarfe’s original and enchanting designs. I felt, seeing this production, like the opera was a fairy tale, uncomplicated but in wonderful color.
The singing was also outstanding, featuring many singers new to the LA Opera, but also including a few veterans of Taymor’s production. Matthew Polenzani was the clear-voiced Tamino. His mate was the beautiful Marie Arnet, who sang with great clarity and expressiveness. L’Ubica Vargicova handled the vocal gymnastics of the Queen of the Night with dexterity.
Nathan Gunn, who was in the Met's production as well, gave a well-rounded interpretation of Papageno that was both silly and poignant. His other half, Papagena, was charmingly played by Amanda Squitieri. Sarastro was well sung by Gunther Groissbock. The three Ladies were played with verve and humor, and also sung well, by Tamara Wilson, Lauren McNeese, and Beth Clayton. Greg Fedderly was a riot as Monostatos.
The Magic Flute plays through January 25th (with alternating casts) at the Los Angeles Opera.