And the varied responses to Mozart and Schikaneder’s implicit invitation to be as inventive as possible seem to be limitless. I’ve never seen two Flutes that looked the same, or a production that struck me as hopelessly wrongheaded, in the way that directorial interventions sometimes can. (I even liked the Canadian Opera Company’s controversial 1993 staging, directed by Martha Clarke, that placed the opera in a shabby hotel in the early 20th century. Hearing Russell Braun, as Papageno, sing “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja,” while holding a live chicken under his arm was worth the price of admission all by itself.)
With regard to the casting, I’ve noticed, over the years, that the most reliable COC productions tend to be ensemble operas, rather than star-vehicles where the company must place all its eggs in one or two baskets. This Flute was no exception: both musically and dramatically, it is well integrated, smoothly balanced and even-handed.
At the performance I attended (Jan. 28), I was particularly impressed with Andrew Haji, as Tamino. This young Canadian singer has developed into an ideal Mozart tenor, and I could listen to him all day. And he was nicely matched by the clear-voiced soprano of Elena Tsallagova. Similarly, baritone Joshua Hopkins and soprano Jacqueline Woodley, as Papageno and Papagena, were well paired, bringing a lively, comic touch to the opera.
I wouldn’t say that the Queen of the Night was brought off as effortlessly as some of the other roles were. But soprano Ambur Braid’s efforts were musically rewarding: intense and impressive. (It was probably a good idea for Labadie to cut her some slack on the tempo, as he did in the trickiest coloratura passages.) And at the other end of the vocal scale, bass Goran Juric was a weighty, magisterial Sarastro, with some gloriously resonant low notes.
But wait – there’s more: a suitably solemn Speaker (baritone Martin Gantner), a creepily malevolent Monostatos (tenor Michael Colvin), three vampy Ladies, a trio of sweet and talented Spirits, a solid pair of Armed Men and some delightful animal characters.
In short, there’s nothing not to love here – unless of course you don’t like the Magic Flute at all. And if, gentle reader, that’s how you feel about it, I have no idea what planet you are from.
© Colin Eatock 2017