Visually Appealing and Strongly Cast Magic Flute in Chicago

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Magic Flute: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago, 6.1.2012 (JLZ)


Original Production: August Everding
Director: Matthew Lata
Set Designer: Jörg Zimmermann
Costume Designer: Renate Kalanke
Lighting Designer: Jason Brown
Chorus Master: Michael Black


Pamina: Nicole Cabell
Tamino: Charles Castronovo (Dec 6 – Jan 6) / Alek Shrader, (Jan 9 – 22)
Papageno: Stéphane Degout
Queen of the Night: Audrey Luna
Sarastro: Günther Groissböck / Evan Boyer (Jan 6)
Speaker: Richard Stilwell
Monostatos: Rodell Rosel
First Lady: Elisabeth Meister
Third Lady: Katherine Lerner
Papagena: Emily Jakob
First Armed Man: Bernard Holcomb
Second Armed Man: David Govertsen
Three Boys: Anna Stephan
Benjamin Hoppe
Nicole Horio
First Priest: James Kryshak
Second Priest: Paul Scholten
Third Priest: William Combs
Fourth Priest: Jeffrey Taylor

Stéphane Degout, Katherine Lerner, Charles Castronovo, Elisabeth Meister and Cecelia Hall in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Photo: Dan Rest)

As familiar as Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte may be, an exceptional performance like Lyric’s serves as a reminder of the durability of this opera. The production, which debuted in the 1986-87 season, remains visually appealing. Traditional in style, it offers a good framework for presenting the story with all the accoutrements of fairy tales. Likewise, the stage direction never loses sight of the narrative drive, which is paced well. Moreover, this season’s cast was particularly strong for both the principal roles and the secondary characters.

For this performance, the French baritone Stéphane Degout stood out because of his outstanding singing and acting in the role of Papageno. The comic aspects of Papageno were well in place, without anything excessively slapstick. The sight-gags connected to the lock on his lips (“Der Arme kann von Strafe sagen”) fitted well, just as his reactions were never over-the-top when facing the dangers in Sarastro’s temple. The astonishment at the appearance of Papagena gave a sense of genuine wonder, an aspect that Deout expressed extremely well in the aria “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” and which he sang partly from the main floor of the opera house.

The American tenor Charles Castronovo gave a similarly strong characterization of Tamino, a prince clearly smitten by Pamina and also sincere in pursuing the initiatory rites in Sarastro’s temple. In his opening aria “Dies Bildnis,” Castronovo allowed the text to emerge clearly, with his phrasing nicely supporting the musical structure. A similar lyricism emerged later in “Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton.” Likewise, the Pamino-Papageno duet in act two, “Bewahret eich,” was effective because of the full-bodied tenor voice of Castronovo blending cohesively with Degout’s resonant baritone.

Castronovo also worked well with the American soprano Nicole Cabell in her portrayal of Pamina, a role which fits her voice well. Musically persuasive, Cabell was effective from the start, as ably demonstrated in the duet with Papageno, “Bei Männern.” Yet the second act aria “Alles fühlt der Liebe” was even more impressive because of the phrasing and expression Cabell contributed to this familiar piece.

Along with the polished performances of these three principals, the production included a fine rendering of the Queen of the Night by American soprano Audrey Luna. In this particular performance the upper pitches of the first act aria “O zittre nicht” seemed pinched, but it was not the case in the second act. The second coloratura aria, “Hölle rache,” had all the stylistic traits associated with the conventional revenge aria, which Luna rendered convincingly.

Yet the announced cast was not entirely present for this performance. As staffer Jack Zimmerman announced at the outset, Austrian bass Günther Goissböck was ill, and Ryan Opera Center member Evan Boyer replaced him as Sarastro. Boyer gave his character the depth and resonance required in both arias. If the first, “O Isis und Osiris,” seemed at times more formal and studied, the warmth and reassurance intended for “In diesem Heil’gen Hallen” was expressed well by this young, talented bass-baritone. It was good to hear Boyer in such a prominent role, apparently at a moment’s notice, and audiences can certainly look forward to more fine performances from him.

Of the other roles, the three ladies from the court of the Queen of the Night were performed with outstanding character and vigor by Elizabeth Meister, Cecilia Hall, and Katherine Lerner. The three singers were vocally unified and dramatically complementary from the start. This not only set the situation clearly in the opening number “Stirb, Ungeheu’r” but also allowed the second act quintet “Wie, wie, wie” to work well into the production.The attention given to the details of these performances pervaded the entire production, which Sir Andrew Davis led with panache. Davis kept the production moving well, with his timing allowing for sufficient applause, but never stopping the flow of action on stage. The Lyric Opera Chorus was balanced in timbre and carefully voiced, a result due to the efforts of the new chorus master Michael Black. All in all, this strong, festival quality performance of one of the staples of opera repertoire brought the work to life in all its details.

James L. Zychowicz