On Stage: The Magic Flute

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “Metal Hurlant Chronicles” when The Wife comes to me and says:

“Don’t you just love summer?”

“Uh, sure. Beats winter. Aside from the lawn mowing.”

“Swimming at the pool. Barbecues. Walks on the Katy Trail. Opera. Free concerts in the park. The sun stays out longer. Flip-flops.”

“Wait. What was that fourth thing you mentioned?”

“Opera! It’s opera season!”

“Oh my lord.”

And so it was that we once again found ourselves at the Loretto-Hilton Center, this time for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production of “The Magic Flute.” Of the four shows on this year’s schedule this was the one I was most interested in because the music was by someone I’d heard of — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

OTSL’s “Magic Flute” features powerful performances, whimsical costumes, clever staging and the lovely, timeless music of Mozart. And then there’s the story…

Emmanuel Schikaneder’s libretto is a mess. Written in 1791, the plot “has often been derided,” according to an article in the program. Let me be the latest to deride it.

magflute-325pxThe first half of the opera plays out almost like a children’s story. Prince Tamino (Sean Panikkar) and comedy sidekick Papageno (Levi Hernandez) are sent on a mission by The Queen of the Night (Claire de Sevigne) to rescue her daughter Pamina (Elizabeth Zharoff) from Sarastro (Matthew Anchel), high priest of Isis and Osiris. The prince is given a magic flute to aid them on their quest.

It’s a very fanciful affair with actors prancing around dressed like snakes and monkeys and birds. The costumes and set pieces are colorful and clever. I especially admired the way the show was set up like a Hollywood sound stage and how they kept the scenery in motion. The actors are fine, the story is easy to follow. And then the Freemasons show up and it all goes south.

Sarastro and his minions dress in red suits topped with fezzes. Looking like Shriners, I half-expected them to chase Tamino and Papageno around in little cars. The second half of the opera turns into a long ordeal in which Tamino must prove his worthiness to be in Sarastro’s cult by undergoing a series of trials.

I enjoyed the first half of “The Magic Flute;” I was not so enraptured with the second half, which I felt ran long and dragged down the proceedings. Claire de Sevigne does deliver a masterful performance in the second act that was the highlight of the show. Matthew Anchel has equally impressive pipes but at the lower end of the scale.

It should be pointed out that while I give “The Magic Flute” mixed marks, The Wife enjoyed it thoroughly and since she’s the expert on opera she’s probably the one you should listen to.

“The Magic Flute” plays through June 28 at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. http://www.opera-stl.org/






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