Operagasm Exclusive Review: Seattle Opera’s Magic Flute
by Amy Van Mechelen
If the world is getting you down (hello US politics, anyone?) then get over to Seattle Opera to see The Magic Flute and you’re sure to leave feeling uplifted. Between the stunning costumes by Zandra Rhodes, the luscious singing, and the lady-boss, Julia Jones, making her Seattle Opera debut conducting, you’ll surely be standing on your feet at the end for a big ol’ O(vation).
Now there are a few things to note about The Magic Flute–first, there’s a lot of magic (duh), second, mythology (there’s a brotherhood with funny symbols), and of course, a love story. The plot is a bit confusing to explain succinctly, but basically: there’s The Queen of the Night who’s trying to get her daughter, Pamina, back, and she asks a prince, Tamino, to do so, and he has to go through some trials that the brotherhood, led by Sarastro, puts him through (whew, catch all that?)
There are some other sub-plots that are fun–Man-Bird (Papageno) needs love, too–and a fair number of colorful animals thrown in the mix here and there. If you’ve got kiddos in your life, they’ll thoroughly enjoy the Three Spirits who appear on scooters, blow bubbles, and sport wings on their shoes. And if you need an extra dose of cuteness, keep your eyes peeled for some mini-Papagenos & Papagenas. They steal the scene (obvi) and gave the audience a nice reprieve after the seriousness of Tamino & Pamina’s trials through fire and water.
Technically, this opera is a singspiel rather than an opera, which means that in between the singing there is spoken dialogue. Seattle Opera made the choice to present the dialogue in German, which required a lot of rubber necking as you had to read a fair amount of subtitles. That’s the only downside to the dialogue being spoken in German, however, as the rhythm and musicality of the German was very pleasant to listen to from all the singing actors.
Let’s jump into the singing, shall we? I attended the May 7th, 2017 performance and was blown away by Amanda Forsythe, who sang the role of Pamina. She comes from an early music background, which I discovered in the program. And wow does it show (in the best way possible)! She sang the act two aria Ach ich fühls with beautifully spun high notes.
Everyone was waiting to hear from The Queen of the Night, sung by Christina Poulitsi, and she did not disappoint. Her runs were clean, crisp, and otherworldly as her high F’s pinged off the back of McCaw Hall. In contrast was the steady and fatherly feeling of Ante Jerkunica’s, Sarastro. Craig Verm’s Papageno had just the right amount of over-the-top-ness, and Randall Bills sang a fine Dies Bildness as Tamino. And let’s not forget the engaging and expressive chorus! They did a wonderful job during the ceremony scenes and at the end rounding out the finale of the opera–kudos to chorusmaster John Keene.
Now let’s get to my favorite part about this production, which is that it was led by an esteemed lady conductor (FINALLY). I’ve seen my fair share of shows at Seattle Opera (not all of them) and cannot remember seeing a woman at the helm of the pit. So brava, Julia Jones!! Her conducting was precise, sharp, and as the kids are saying these days, on point. Standing O to you, madame, and not just cause she’s got ovaries, but because she did an amazing job!
There’s a tricky bit of business I’ve been avoiding and that’s the overall theme woven throughout by the librettist, Schikaneder, which is that women are supes (No, I didn’t mean super. Supes gives it more emPHASis) less important or less smart than men. Now we shouldn’t be surprised by this because after all it was written in 1791 so DUH to the sexism and misogyny! Which is why I’m over here applauding Ms. Jones. It was nice to see a woman in charge of keeping this production together as there were so many intricate moving parts. So while there are a few groan-worthy moments in the opera, there are plenty of awwww moments, and belly-laugh moments, and thank-you-for-that-nod-to-what’s-happening-politically-moments, too. I won’t give that away cause you’ve gotta go see it for yourself!
The Magic Flute is playing May 13, 14, 17, 19, 20, & 21 at McCaw Hall.