A Superb Production of Die Zauberflöte Relayed from the Met

17/10/2017

Mozart: Soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera / James Levine (conductor). Broadcast live to the Dundonald Omniplex, Belfast from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 14.10.2017. (RB)

zauberfloete-met

Pamina (Golda Schultz) & Papageno (Markus Werba) in the Met’s Zauberflöte (c) Richard Termine

Cast:

Pamina –  Golda Schultz
Queen of the Night – Kathryn Lewek
Tamino –  Charles Castronovo
Papageno – Markus Werba
Sarastro – René Pape
Monostatos – Greg Fedderly
Speaker – Christian van Horn
Papagena –  Ashley Emerson

Production:

Production – Julie Taymor
Set Designer – George Tsypin
Costume Designer – Julie Taymor
Lighting Designer – Donald Holder
Puppet Designer –  Julie Taymor and Michael Curry
Choreographer –  Mark Dendy

Live in HD Director – Gary Halvorson
Live in HD Host – Nadine Sierra

This was a revival of Julie Taymor’s 2004 production of Die Zauberflöte.  Marc Chagall and David Hockney were both involved in the set and costume design of previous productions of Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera so Taymor’s production follows a long and distinguished tradition.

Taymor’s production was visually stunning and highly inventive with its use of puppets, African masks and figures from Chinese opera.  The three ladies all had white masks which were initially placed above their heads – Taymor adopts the same technique in her West End production of The Lion King – and were then used almost as an extension of the characters’ bodies.  Puppets were used throughout the production and were deftly operated by the Metropolitan Opera’s dancers:  bird puppets signalled the entrance of Papageno while dancing bears congregated around Tamino when he was playing his magic flute.  Huge armoured statues with flaming heads guarded the entrance to the temple while the interior of the temple itself was replete with brightly coloured Masonic symbols.  I was impressed with the way in which Taymor was able to use such a diverse and eclectic range of effects to conjure up Mozart’s fairy tale world.

The costumes were varied and brightly coloured, underscoring the distinctive characteristics and other-worldly magical attributes of these larger-than-life characters.  Papageno was in his trademark green outfit with external lattice webbing and wore a hat with a large bird’s beak at the back.  Tamino was in Oriental garb with exotic eye make-up and put me in mind of a Japanese Samurai on a mission to prove himself.  Monostatos wore a fat suit and seemed to be a cross between Divine (famous from John Waters’ films) and Nosferatu the vampire with his black cape.  The Queen of the Night was all in white and her cloak billowed like sails behind her.  Sarastro wore a bright yellow costume and an Oriental headpiece adorned with Masonic symbols while his acolytes were dressed all in white.  The three ladies were all in black and had long witch-like fingers while the three child spirits had long flowing white beards.  It was a feast for the eyes and a highly imaginative visualisation of Mozart’s immortal cast of characters.

The cast were on cracking form and the singing and acting were uniformly excellent throughout the performance.  It almost seems churlish to pick out individual cast members given the very fine calibre of all the performances but for me the stand out performer of the evening was Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night.  She displayed brilliantly the lofty and imperious qualities of the character in the first aria and the elemental fury in the second.  The rapid coloratura was dispatched with crisp articulation and the intonation was perfect with the high Fs posing no problems whatsoever.  Lewek’s performance was deservedly greeted with a standing ovation from the audience.  South African soprano, Golda Schultz, also did an excellent job in the role of Pamina, giving us a spirited and nuanced performance.  Schultz produced some exquisite colouring in the upper vocal register and rich vocal textures.  ‘Ach, ich fühls’ in the second act was sung with a plaintive beauty of tone and Mozart’s decorative lines were shaped beautifully.

Markus Werba had a ball in the role of Papageno, bringing out the zest and comic verve of the character.  This was a very physical, uninhibited performance and there was some excellent interaction with the audience.  Werba’s singing was assured and warm throughout and he brought a wonderful freshness and naturalness to the music.  Charles Castronovo injected an aching lyricism into Tamino’s ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’ while at same time capturing the more heroic dimensions of the role.  I would have liked the role to be a little more sharply characterised at times although for the most part Castronovo did a good job and played well against Werba’s fun-loving Papageno.  Veteran bass René Pape gave a very noble and dignified portrayal of Sarastro and sang ‘In diesen Heil’gen Hallen’ with simplicity and directness, allowing this immortal music to speak for itself.

James Levine kept cast, chorus and orchestra on track throughout.  The opening chords of the Overture were robust and perfectly weighted while the ensuing fast section was brisk and spirited.  Levine was highly responsive to the mercurial changes of mood in the score.  He provided a jaunty, folksy accompaniment for Papageno, ardent Romantic colours for Tamino, a playful sense of whimsy for the three child spirits and dramatic fire for the Queen of the Night.  The ensemble work was generally very good although the blend and balance of the voices was not quite right in the initial scene featuring the three ladies or in the wonderful trio with Sarastro, Tamino and Pamina.  Levine for the most part adopted fairly brisk tempi which worked well and he did a great job steering both acts through to their triumphant conclusions.

Overall, this was a superb production and good to see the conductor, cast, chorus and orchestra firing on all cylinders.

Robert Beattie

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