Michael R. Anderson
UW Opera's The Magic Flute
The UW Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, the beloved classic by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, opened at Music Hall on Friday, March 13, to the delight of a full house.
The entertainment values — colorful costumes, lively action, sight gags — are not out of keeping with what audiences may have experienced in the original production, as staged in Vienna in 1791 by Mozart’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, who played the first Papageno.
In the UW’s version, the musical numbers are sung in German (with English surtitles), with the heavily cut spoken dialogue given in English. In both cases, the words are cheaply translated, or tarted up, to serve a spurious back-story. (The original libretto is full of unresolved inconsistencies, but that is no reason to try to impose artificial logic on it.)
The staging, by David Ronis, illustrates the concept of Regietheater (German for “director’s theater”), in which irrelevant concepts are imposed on a production. Did you know that the bad guys, the Queen of the Night’s gang, were Victorian Westerners, while the good guys, Sarastro’s crowd, were quasi-Buddhists? Ronis claims inspiration from the “Eastern” ideas of Freemasonry imbedded in the opera by Mozart. But Mozart’s Freemasonry was a product of the 18th-century European Enlightenment, without any connection to Eastern spirituality. The very final chorus, in which all sing nobly of Schönheit und Weisheit (“beauty and wisdom”) is completely obliterated by introducing repulsive rock-’n-roll cavorting. What price cheap entertainment?
At least the music is given justice. Seventeen characters are listed in the program, eight of which are double cast among the four performances. There are too many to discuss individually, although some of the Friday (and Sunday) team deserve mention. Thomas Leighton has a beefy tenor voice, but lacks the lyrical side of Prince Tamino. Soprano Nicole Heinen is appealingly girlish as his beloved Panina. Soprano Sarah Richardson is compelling as the Queen of the Night: She has all the ferocious notes in place, but lacks confidence. As Sarastro, Thomas Weis is a baritone pretending to be a bass, in one of the greatest roles for the lowest of male voices. And Joel Rathmann, if not a notable singer, is a terrific comic actor as the “birdman” Papageno.
The cast generally upholds the best of student standards. With a pit orchestra of 40, conductor James Smith, as always, anchors the performance with reliable expertise.
Remaining performances of the Magic Flute are March 14, 15, and 17 at UW’s Music Hall.