“The Magic Flute” Brings Magic From A Movie Sound Stage

Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Though a little unorthodox, the opening show of Opera Theatre St. Louis’ summer rep is Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”- directed and designed by Isaac Mizrahi. Perhaps the opera most easily open to interpretation, “Flute” is a fairy tale to begin with filled with magical animals, the Queen of the Night and an overall aura of mystery. With my background heavily grounded in traditional American musical theatre, I found the heavy incorporation of dance and the familiar setting of a movie soundstage to be refreshing and unique. A few distractions perhaps, but this opera is so well known and loved that it’s nice to see a fresh look at an old favorite.

Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Tamino is dressed like Gene Kelly in that magnificent dance ballet from “An American In Paris.” The Princess Pamina appears to be a combination of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in “The Wizard Of Oz.” In fact, the entire cast is reminiscent of one- or a blend- of famous characters from film. The Queen of the Night dressed as Greta Garbo or perhaps ready to spout “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” The bird catcher, Papageno looks a lot like W.C. Fields with some Big Bird feathers sprouting from his belly. Add some flying monkeys (or at least they look like they could fly any minute), some Groucho-esque Shriners, the three spirits dressed like the “Triplet” trio from “The Bandwagon,” pink tuxedoed forest creatures and other Hollywood “types” and you’ve got a whole new look at “The Magic Flute.” Even the guys who change the set look like stage hands from the Golden Age of filmdom.

Photo; Ken Howard

Photo; Ken Howard

The dance sequences that accompany some of the arias, duets and even “production” numbers, are often mirrored by “dream” Tamino and “dream” Pamina like the ballet sequence from “Oklahoma!” created by Agnes DeMille. Dressed like our leads, this can be a bit distracting at times but it blends well and gives the opera almost the feel of a musical. When Mr. Mizrahi directed “A Little Night Music” for Opera Theatre a few years ago, he was more in his element. With his interpretation of Mozart, he formed the opera to fit his element. Quite a coup and one that works successfully- even if it doesn’t please all opera purists.

Soprano Claire de Seveigne is exquisite as the Queen of the Night. Her first act entrance where she enters and trails a “miles long” purple train up a flight of stairs is impressive indeed. With members of the chorus unobtrusively guiding the garment, it’s a moment that is worthy of a Hollywood star. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff is delightful as Pamina and tenor Sean Panikkar is strong as Tamino. The three attendants of the Queen of the Night, Raquel Gonzalez, Summer Hassan and Corrie Stalllings, almost steal the show when they are on. They move and sing as a unit and, again, dressed in magical blue gowns that evoke the Hollywood period.

Photo: Ken Howard

Photo: Ken Howard

Baritone Levi Hernandez as Papageno is superb and proves to be an outstanding actor as well as accomplished singer. Bass Matthew Anchel brings a strong voice to the role of Sarastro and Matthew DiBattista is wonderful as the “blue” Monostatos. Jane Glover thrillingly conducts the St. Louis Symphony orchestra- bringing out every clever nuance from Mozart’s music. Choreographer John Heginbotham manages to incorporate the vision of Mr. Mizrahi’s dance-heavy “Flute” without distracting from the overall quality of the production. And once again, Isaac Mizrahi’s vision with direction, set design and costumes is just overwhelming. His soundstage with scaffolding, a huge wooden rolling door at the back of the stage, the powerful second act temple and the impressive array of costume choices is mind-boggling. And he  keeps the action moving with help from the clever “stage hands” that move scenery in and out like a well-oiled movie set.

“The Magic Flute” may not please everyone, but I found it a fresh interoperation that works on many levels. it plays in repertory with three other operas through June 28th. Contact Opera Theatre St. Louis at 314-961-0644 for tickets or more information.

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