Opera Review: ‘The Magic Flute’ at the Met

Not just for children
December 23, 2016 Updated: December 25, 2016

NEW YORK—One of the Metropolitan Opera’s better ideas is to present a child-friendly performance of an opera during the holiday season. This year, the Met brought back Julie Taymor’s 2004 production of “The Magic Flute” (Die Zauberflöte). This is a stripped-down, 100-minute version of the opera, performed in English.

Although I prefer Mozart’s music unabridged, I confess that I prefer hearing the dialogue in my own language rather than German.

Christopher Maltman as Papageno in Mozart's
Christopher Maltman as Papageno in the Met’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The translation by American poet J.D. McClatchy is witty and clarifies the action, though the singing was not always intelligible. (As always, the translation appeared on the back of the seat in front of each audience member.) In addition, the playbill has an illustrated synopsis of the plot.

Children of all ages (including me) were entranced by the puppets designed by Taymor and Michael Curry, and just as delighted with the cast, even if some of them mugged a bit. The multitalented Taymor also designed the imaginative costumes.

The opera is a mixture of comedy and mysticism, with romance, sorcery, and monsters. Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of the fraternal order of Freemasons, and the work reflects their beliefs, although these elements are downplayed in this abridged version in favor of the humor and action.

English baritone Christopher Maltman was clearly the favorite of the children in the audience.

The entrancing melodies are unmistakably the work of the great composer, who died only three weeks after the 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 Australian conductor Antony Walker led a graceful performance that drew out all the nuances in the score. The excellent cast was mostly American and British. Kansas native Ben Bliss, the lyric tenor, played a world-class Prince Tamino. His performance of “This Portrait’s Beauty” was one of the evening’s highlights.

Soprano Janai Brugger (also from Kansas) was a radiant Pamina, delivering a sensitive rendition of “Now My Heart Is Filled With Sadness.”

Janai Brugger as Pamina in Mozart's
Janai Brugger as Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

English baritone Christopher Maltman sang with style as the bird man Papageno, moving gracefully and enunciating with clarity. He was very cute when he sang about his longing for “A Cuddly Wife or Sweetheart.” Maltman was clearly the favorite of the children in the audience.

Bass Morris Robinson (from Atlanta) was a sonorous Sarastro, achieving the requisite low notes in his aria, “Within Our Sacred Temple,” and Robert Brubaker (unrecognizable with a prosthetic nose and fake belly) was entertaining as the devious slave Monostatos.

English coloratura Jessica Pratt (in her Met debut) knocked out a dazzling rendition of the treacherously difficult “Queen of the Night” aria, and Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang was impressive as the Speaker.

Jessica Pratt as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's
Jessica Pratt as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Though older than the target audience, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at “The Magic Flute.” More operas directed by Taymor, please.

‘The Magic Flute’
Metropolitan Opera
30 Lincoln Center Plaza 
Tickets: 212-362-6000 or MetOpera.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Closes:  Jan. 5, 2017

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