Last night we went to see the next opera in our subscription, Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Chicago Lyric Opera. Let me confess right off: if The Magic Flute is not my favorite opera, it’s certainly in the top five.
Is there any overture in the entire repertory that inspires a greater sense of expectation than the overture of The Magic Flute? A gentle notice that in just a few minutes wonderful sights and sounds will appear before you? It isn’t the symbolism, the Freemasonry, the rather clunky plot, or the social philosphy quaint enough to produce a few snickers in the audience that has kept The Magic Flute, after more than 200 years, in the general repertory and, indeed, one of the most-produced operas in the world. It’s the sublimity of the music.
But you’ve got to hand it to Schikaneder, the librettist, impresario, and original Papageno. The Magic Flute really does have something for everyone: a handsome prince in search of spiritual enlightenment, a beautifuil princess in distress, a lecherous and comical villain, a buffoon, wise counselors, monsters, animals, spirits, and too much more to mention.
We’ve seen this production before and it’s really wonderful and enchanting from the puppet dragon Prince Tamino flees at the beginning of the opera to the costumes and pageantry with which the opera ends. It is entertaining, light, and amusing throughout. The acting was probably the best we’ve ever seen in a Magic Flute. The singing, however, left something to be desired. The standout voice was Franz-Josef Selig’s Sarastro, although I felt that he lacked a certain musicality at times. This was a common characteristic of the cast and I wonder if it might have been directorial. Cornelia Götz as the Queen of the Night did succeed in taking her high notes (a refreshing change from the last Queen of the Night we heard at Lyric) but she had a tentative quality that I thought was odd in someone who had more than 500 performances as the Queen under her belt. She played the Queen as though she were expecting someone else to play the Ace. I was reminded of the comment of a Northwestern quarterback who told me that his objective going out onto the field was not winning games but avoiding injury. The Queen of the Night is supposed to knock your socks off with a bravura performance, not elicit polite applause.
Monostatos is not usually thought of as much of a singing part. I’ve heard Monostatoses with rather weak voices. Dennis Peterson’s Monostatos was vocally quite strong and actually quite funny which is rather difficult these days with this very non-PC part.
All-in-all an entertaining night at the opera in a charming, sparkling production. If you’re in striking distance, you owe it to yourself to see this production.