Reviewed by James Karas
For its winter season, the Canadian Opera Company has revived its 2011 production of The Magic Flute. What is the most interesting and most impressive thing about the production? You will never guess it but it is this: it is an all-Canadian production. Okay, there are a few “visitors” but the fact that the COC can produce an opera with mostly Canadian talent is worthy of applause and a positive omen for operaphiles.
Director Diane Paulus has an interesting approach to the opera. (She comes from that great neighbour, business partner and marvelous ally, the United States – we have to say that these days). She imagines the first act of the opera as a play-within-a-play. There is a small stage in a place with lots of people milling around. It could be the interior of a stately house but with so much people traffic it could be even outside.
Owen McCausland as Tamino and Kirsten MacKinnon as Pamina in
The Magic Flute, 2017, Photo: Michael Cooper
In any event, there are some very colorfully dressed people (the chorus) and a young man appears pursued by a monster - a white pretend-reptile. He is, of course, Prince Tamino (tenor Owen McCausland) who is rescued by Three Ladies and meets the bird catcher Papageno (baritone Phillip Addis). Tamino is shown a picture of Pamina (soprano Kirsten MacKinnon), falls in love with her and we are off to the races or at least to her father Sarastro’s (bass Matt Boehler) palace.
The smaller playing area of the play-within-a-play gives way to more monumental sets, statues of guard lions, colour effects, magical scenes and wrought iron gates and high hedges with an impressive structure in the back. Moveable hedges are used in different configurations for scene changes as Tamino and Papageno go through arduous trials in order to become worthy to join the brotherhood of The Temple of Wisdom.
The Magic Flute calls for numerous scene changes from the Palace of Wisdom to gardens, to mountains, to groves which can mostly be hinted at but the set by Myung Hee Cho works quite well with judicious use of lighting, the hedges and other paraphernalia.
Phillip Addis as Papageno (far left), Michael Colvin as Monostatos (centre) and
Kirsten MacKinnon as Pamina. Photo: Michael Cooper
The singing by mostly members from the COC Ensemble Studio is commendable if somewhat uneven. McCausland showed vocal agility and beauty as Tamino. He does not have a big voice but he was a delight to watch. Kirsten MacKinnon sang a sympathetic and sweet Pamina.
Bass Matt Boehler has the rumbling low notes to make a fine Sarastro but he was not at his best in “O Isis und Osiris” one of the role’s main arias. The orchestra threatened to overwhelm him and he just managed to keep up with it. He did much better with “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” where he plunges into the low notes and maintains control of the melody. Splendid.
Baritone Phillip Addis does well as the comic Papageno but he has to put up with delayed reaction as we read the surtitles to get the joke. How much better and funnier it would be if the dialogue were in English. We can’t blame him but do give him credit for fine acting and singing. His interaction with the delightful Papagena of Jacqueline Woodley is a pleasure to watch.
The Queen of the Night is like a big target in a shooting range. Everyone has heard the highly distinctive “Der Hölle Rache” (even if they can’t remember the name) where the soprano has to belt out those high notes as she orders her daughter to kill her father Sarastro. Soprano Ambur Braid does just that with passion and murderous defiance.
The Magic Flute has some thrilling choruses from the solemn march of the priests to the final “Hail” to Tamino and Papageno who have fought bravely and are rewarded with eternal wisdom and beauty. Kudos to the Canadian Opera Company Chorus and the Orchestra conducted by Bernard Labadie.
The Magic Flute was first produced in 1791 in the rough-and-ready Theater auf der Wieden in a suburb of Vienna. Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist and producer, was a man of the theatre with a taste for spectacle and broad comedy. The Magic Flute has all of those things and much more of course but would it not be nice if we understood all the nuances, comic, Masonic and serious? Let’s satisfy the purists with keeping the arias in German and let the rest of us have fun with the dialogue in English. Deal?