Tuesday December 20th, 2016 - Julie Taymor's inventive production of Mozart's MAGIC FLUTE (above, in a Marty Sohl/Met Opera photo) is the Metropolitan Opera's 2016 holiday season offering. In this pared-down version, sung in English, quite a bit of dialogue is cut, but - alas! - so are some of my favorite moments from the score. The overture is reduced to merely the opening chords; half of Tamino's 'portrait' aria is sacrificed; and the loss of the enchanting "Bei Männern" duet and of the divine Chorus of the Priests are the unkindest cuts of all.
The Taymor is the third Met production of FLUTE in my operatic career, following the dazzling Chagall and the vivid David Hockney. Ms. Taymor's setting is a charmer, with a crew of black-clad deck-hands manipulating giant puppets, a huge pre-historic bird to carry the Three Genii aloft, and a bevy of colorful avian-ballerinas (led by Emery LeCrone) who are enchanted by Papageno's bells.
Antony Walker led a finely-paced performance, where both the light-hearted and the profound aspects of the score were given due honor. The sound of Érik Gratton's flute, playing from the pit, fell most graciously on the ear, especially in the Trial Scene.
The Met put forth a very appealing cast this evening. Janai Brugger (above) as Pamina and Ben Bliss as Tamino sang so persuasively that the loss of half of Ben's aria and of Janai's duet with Papageno were to be all the more lamented. Mr. Bliss, who gave a lovely recital at Weill Hall earlier this season, was a tall and ardent Prince, his singing clear and stylish.
Ms. Brugger's Pamina was a revelation: her warm vibrato and delicious turns of phrase captivated me all evening. The voice is very 'present' in the big hall; her highest notes, often nuanced to a luminous piano, were exquisite. The great aria was a moving expression of feminine vulnerability wherein Pamina's mistaken belief that Tamino no longer loves her was movingly conveyed. I'm very sorry now that I missed Ms. Brugger's Liu at The Met; the role I most want to hear her in - soon - is Mimi in BOHEME.
Morris Robinson (above) was a majestic, vocally grand Sarastro. His voice spans the range with true command - the deep notes wonderfully resonant - and in matters of phrasing and diction he imbues the music with a rich sense of humanity. It's always a great pleasure to hear Mr. Robinson at the Met, and tonight his performance was particularly impressive.
Christopher Maltman's Papageno was a genuine joy, his singing robust and sprightly by turns, and his Brit accent adding an extra bit of charm. An agile actor, Mr. Maltman took the production's pratfalls in stride. He made the birdcatcher a vivacious but never silly character, and we were all rooting for him to win his Papagena, played - with creaky quirkiness when old and blithe perkiness when young - by Dísella Lárusdóttir.
As the Queen of the Night, Jessica Pratt was undaunted by this most difficult of debut roles. In two arias, touching on five high-Fs, the soprano is in a make-or-break situation; Ms. Pratt came thru with flying colours, bringing a striking sense of drama to her spoken instructions to Pamina (to commit murder) and with deft coloratura in the ensuing aria. In her final command: "Swear! Swear! Swear to avenge me!" Ms. Pratt latched onto a brilliantly sustained top note that rang splendidly into the hall.
Shenyang played the all-too-brief role of The Speaker; his scene with Tamino outside the temple is actually my favorite part of the opera, wherein Tamino's world is turned upside-down. Shenyang and Mr. Bliss were excellent here, and how I was wishing that the bass-baritone sang in New York far more frequently.
Robert Brubaker gave a brilliant performance as the duplicitous Monastatos, his singing strong and his diction clear. Making his exit after being repelled by Pamina, Mr. Brubaker casually tossed the line: "If I can't have the daughter, I'll try for the mother!" over his shoulder. I laughed out loud.
Wendy Bryn Harmer, Sarah Mesko (debut), and Maria Zifchak made a very fine trio of Ladies, vocally well-matched and carrying out all their stage business with aplomb. An especially impressive trio of Genii - Daniel Katzman, Misha Grossman, and Dylan Hansen Hamme - sang firmly and blended very well in music that is often delivered weakly and with unsure pitch. Good work, boys! Mark Schowalter and Scott Scully (Priests) and Noah Baetge and Rod Nelman (Guards) rounded out the evening's cast.
In the well-sold House were hundreds of children, and for the most part they were silent as mice. Of course the exception had to be sitting right next to us: she did some epic nose-blowing throughout the latter scenes of the evening. Step out to the hallway, dear!
Then, on leaving the theatre, my friend Claudia and I were accosted by a deranged patron who was incensed and righteously offended that the opera had not been given complete and was not sung in German: somehow this became our fault. After a moment of being polite, I was overcome by his severe case of halitosis. He blustered on and on while we ignored him. Finally he rushed away, crashing into the revolving door. What a miserable bloke.
But all's well as ends better, as the hobbits say. We had a great time at the Met tonight.