Magic Flute Flat
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Zauberflote
Andrea Rost (Pamina), Michael Schade (Tamino), Rod Gilfry (Papageno), Lorraine Ernest (Queen of the Night), Kwangchul Youn (Sarastro), Amanda Squitieri (Papagena), Robert Baker (Monastatos), Barbara Quintiliani (first lady), Keri Alkema (second lady), Ann McMahon Quintero (third lady)
Stanley Garner (director), Gerald Scarf (set and costume design), Michael Gottlieb (lighting design)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
Washington National Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Die Zauberflote is, unquestionably, one of Mozart’s finest operas and one of the best known in the world. It’s often said to be the one opera a novice should see and hear, offering a good sampling of much of what constitutes opera. And, this observation is mostly true. But, in the hands of the wrong director, things might not always draw down to the same general conclusion.
Such is the case with the Washington National Opera’s production. Stanley Garner’s direction of Peter Hall’s original production missed the mark in at several critical areas. As a brilliant example of well crafted “singspiel,” it’s critical that the “spiel” flows naturally and with emotion. If it doesn’t, it loses impetus and begins to grow tedious. As a whole, the cast sounded more like a class in phonetic German recitation. Words were being said but there was little concerning the exchanges between individuals that sounded conversational and natural or that conveyed emotion. Consequently, the pace dragged. Additionally, Garner had people placed on stage, mostly upstage, who didn’t or couldn’t project lines of dialog or song. There was a significant imbalance of sound around the stage and into the audience, which also detracted from the business at hand—operatic entertainment. In fairness, for portions of the general on stage-off stage movement, Garner’s directorial hand found logical and flowing movement among the large cast.
Fortunately, surrounding the lagging dialog were substantial moments of musical magic that delighted the ear. Heading off the fine singing was Canadian tenor Michael Schade as Tamino, whose character development was solid and whose sound was sweet. The lovely Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost turned in an equally excellent and lyrically-delightful performance as Pamina. American baritone Rodney Gilfry delivered an engaging and charming Papageno. American tenor Robert Baker pleased as Monostatos.
American soprano Lorraine Ernest substituted for Amanda Pabyan as the evil Queen of the Night. While her voice quality is quite appealing and her ability to project rock solid, her delivery wasn’t exactly exacting. As the Queen’s ladies, the trio of Keri Alkema, Ann McMahon Quintero, and Barbara Quintiliani were delightful and full voiced, delivering performances that enhanced the overall effort. Korean bass Kwangchul Youn came up short in the low register range of things, but otherwise delivered a comfortable performance as Sarastro.
By far, the most interest in this Zauberflote came at the hand and inspiration of designer Gerald Scarfe. A political satirist cartoonist and former Disney creator, Scarfe’s wonderfully whimsical design stole the show. The imagination Scarfe brought to his amazing array of creatures and native inhabitants was awesome. From a giant snake-like-monster whose tail and body circulated through the stage’s rafters to Lion King-like lions to a cuddly giraffe and an alligator inspired creature with red tennis shoes, the visuals were magnificent. Then too there were such colorful characters as Monostatos who was outfitted as a giant green and very fat bug. Fortunately, he counterbalanced his silly appearance with fine singing. Also contributing to the visual pleasures of this “Flute” was a pyramid that opened and shut and moved about in pieces and parts,
Heinz Fricke could have pumped a bit more vitality into some of the music making but largely maintained tight and artistic control over the score. Had the musical output been more evenly spread across the cast, along with more enthusiastic spiel, this Die Zauberflote would have more completely substantiated the longevity of its reputation as the magical work it is. As it was, it was more a case of humming the scenery and a handful of familiar arias.
John C. Shulson