Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opera Carolina’s 'Magic Flute' an 'art'-ful classic

Jun Kaneko designed the sets and the costumes for Opera Carolina’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” but the Japanese native is much better known as a sculptor and painter whose works grace art galleries all over the world.

It’s no wonder, then, that the show – which opened Saturday to a sold-out Belk Theater crowd – begins with a video-projected feast for the eyes: shimmery blue lines; followed by a sequence of interconnecting, zagging, crawling lines that play like a giant, colorful Etch-a-Sketch; followed by a montage of pop-art.

Seven minutes later, you’re properly enchanted. And that 32-foot, two-headed serpent hasn’t even begun to hassle our hero Tamino yet.

Mozart’s music and Emanuel Schikaneder’s narrative remain intact in the Charlotte company’s collaboration with Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and San Francisco Opera, where it debuted last summer.

The tale of the earnest young prince who is given a magic flute and goes looking for love and enlightenment still features his goofy bird-catching sidekick Papageno, his fair princess-to-be (hopefully) Pamina, and the mysterious Queen of the Night. Tamino must still undergo trials of wisdom to prove himself a worthy husband. Papageno must still find his way to his Papagena.

But as refreshed by Kaneko (also the man behind last winter’s “Madama Butterfly” reboot for Opera Carolina), the look and feel of this particular “Magic Flute” seems to have borrowed inspiration from a dozen Tim Burton movies, as well as from that drawing app your toddler uses on the iPad.

Every morsel of imagery delights, or stimulates, or seems to give a pop-cultural wink.

There’s something decidedly Spider-Man-like about Papageno’s (Kyle Pfortmiller) bodysuit. If you don’t look at sleazy Monostatos (Julius Ahn) and think Gene Simmons in Kiss makeup, you weren’t a child of the ’70s (or ’80s, or ’90s). And do we detect a little Bride of Frankenstein thing going on there with the Queen (Maria Aleida)?

You might be reminded of different things than I was, but that’s just a testament to how imaginative and evocative Kaneko’s work is.

The fact that “Magic Flute” is 100 percent in English makes this an ideal introduction to opera for all ages, and supertitles help during musical passages (though they did seem to drop out in two or three instances Saturday). However, it’s still nearly three hours long with intermission, so the experience will test younger children’s patience. The staging and costumes may be visually exciting, but the pacing is not exactly zippy.

As for the arias and other vocal arrangements, tenor Shawn Mathey (as Tamino), Korean soprano Yunah Lee (as Pamina), and bass-baritone Tom McNichols (as Sarastro, leader of the temple that’s holding Pamina) all sound strong and confident (though McNichols can be a bit more difficult to understand than the others). Meanwhile, Cuban-American Maria Aleida astonishes as the Queen – as any soprano playing the Queen should; her first and last arias, with their runs and leaps, would leave Mariah Carey stupefied.

The real star, of course, is Papageno. It’s a showy character, the adventure’s comic relief, and Pfortmiller is perfect – bright, quick, flexible, funny. Anyone who gets to slip in a joke about The Clapper in a 222-year-old opera while most of the rest of the cast is always so serious will be an instant fan favorite.

Still, one person got a larger ovation during the curtain call Saturday. That’d be Kaneko. Thanks to him, Opera Carolina’s latest is a true work of art.

There are two more upcoming performances of ‘The Magic Flute’: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. $15-$140. 172 minutes, including a 22-minute intermission. In English, with English subtitles. 704-372-1000;


Anonymous said...

I disagree that the Queen of the Night gave a good performance...perhaps compared to Mariah Carey whom the reviewer says would be impressed by the performance...but in an absolute sense the Queen was a disappointment to me. I did take my kids (ages 17 down to 12) and my wife and I had been bragging about the wonderful singing, orchestra, costumes and sets OC always produces, and we were disappointed at this production's lack of traditional set.

I agree Tamino and Pamina were the highlight. However much of the rest of the singing seemed, to me, average. The lackluster audience applause after most musical sections was the honest spontaneous reflection of the performance. The hesitant standing 'O' at the end reminded me of how parents do the same at the end of every school play with that "aren't our kids wonderful" look in their eye. If you have to hesitate to figure out whether a standing ovation is warranted, it isn't warranted.

After Tosca, which was one of the best operas I've every attended (I've been to maybe 20 in my lifetime), I was really hoping for something special to show my kids, and I feel like I got an experiment, with a few inspired musical moments. I have vowed to my kids (much to their regret) to take them to another more traditional opera production!

Garth Vader said...

My reaction is between Theoden's and Anon-6:20's. I felt the Queen was a little too light-of-voice for the part. I wasn't expecting Damrau or Dessay or Popp or Serra, and for the most part she navigated the impossibly high runs (one extremely slight bobble in Act II), but the power was a bit lacking and her accent was a bit distracting during the dialog.

I do quibble with two of Anonymous's comments:

1. The standing O for Papageno was spontaneous and entirely deserved - as Theoden points out this performance was as much acting and physical comedy as it was singing and he absolutely nailed it. From my seat (Orchestra H dead center) it sounded heartier than the ovation given to Mr. Koneko.

2. All the advertising for this production, as well as the preview interviews with the set designer - who did last season's "Madame Butterfly", disclosed that this would be a highly stylized and contemporary staging.

I agree with Anon about "Tosca" - fantastic singing all the way around!

Clay said...

I have a one eyed magic flute that my wife is very fond of.

Logan said...

@theodenjanes As you noted in @OperaCarolina's "Die Zauberflote" for #CLT @theobserver, Jun Kaneko is global. #CBC

Logan said...

Exhibit A:


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I agree almost entirely with the first commenter's critique (Anonymous). I saw the performance on Thursday evening with a friend, and we both left feeling very underwhelmed. I thought the set was too modern and sparse, and it didn't work well for some reason. Overall, I'd give the entire production a "C".

I'm new to opera...4 with OC (Tosca was fantastic!) and one at the Met in NYC. This is the first one that I didn't care for.