Opera Review: ‘Die Zauberflöte’

Julie Taymor’s 'Magic Flute' still delights
October 14, 2017 Updated: October 14, 2017

NEW YORK—Julie Taymor’s spectacular production of “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute) is back at the Metropolitan Opera for a brief run in the unabridged version. The opera combines Mozart’s immortal music with Taymor’s imaginative costumes and the puppets she co-designed with Michael Curry.

“The Magic Flute” is a mixture of comedy and mysticism with romance, sorcery, and monsters. The composer and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of the fraternal order of Freemasons and the work reflects their beliefs.

The entrancing melodies are unmistakably the work of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), who died less than three months after its premiere. The opera is supposed to take place in Egypt but Taymor’s version (with striking sets by George Tsypin) places the action in a fairy-tale world.

This is as magical as her production of “The Lion King” but with better music.

The eminent conductor James Levine led a graceful performance that drew out all the nuances in the score.

The international cast was excellent. Lyric tenor Charles Castronovo  (from Queens, New York) was a world-class prince Tamino. He rendered a fluent and rich-voiced performance of his first act aria, “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” (This image is enchantingly beautiful).

In her debut role at the Met, soprano Golda Schultz (from South Africa) was a radiant Pamina, delivering a sensitive rendition of “Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden” (Ah, I feel it, it has disappeared) about her fear that she has lost Tamino’s love.

As Papageno the bird man, baritone Markus Werba sang with style and a lot of humor. Werba was very cute when he sang his introductory “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” (The birdcatcher am I) and later “A Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” (A girl or a little wife) about his longing for a cuddly wife. When he discovers his pretty mate, Papagena (Ashley Emerson), who first appears disguised as an old woman), the pair sing the buoyant “Pa–, pa–, pa–.”

Bass Tobias Kehrer was a sonorous Sarastro, achieving the requisite low notes in his two arias, “O Isis und Osiris” (O Isis and Osiris) and “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (Within these sacred halls).

Greg Fedderly seemed to have a good time with a prosthetic nose and fake belly, playing the devious slave Monostatos. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was excellent as the Speaker.

The singer who won the biggest applause of the evening was coloratura soprano Kathryn Bowden, making her Met debut, filling in for the ill Kathryn Lewek. She won over the audience with the difficult aria “Queen of the Night,” “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart). She knocked out stratospheric high notes and conveyed the character’s demonic rage. Bowden deserves to get a role of her own next season.

“The Magic Flute” will return as a holiday presentation, a 100-minute English language adaptation by J.D. McClatchy (who provided the titles for the adult version). It will have some of the same performers as the full-length version (including Charles Castronovo and Tobias Kehrer) plus the terrific Nathan Gunn as Papageno, This is an ideal production to introduce children to opera.

‘Die Zauberflöte’ (The Magic Flute)
The Metropolitan Opera
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
Tickets: 212-362-6000 or MetOpera.org
Running Time: 3 hours, 9 minutes
Closes: Oct. 14

The 1 hour, 40 minute holiday presentation will run intermittently from Nov. 25 to Dec. 9.

Barry Basis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.