Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Adam Fischer
Producer: Julie Taymor
Director: David Kneuss
Tamino: Matthew Polenzani
Papageno: Nathan Gunn
Pamina: Julia Kleiter
Sarastro: Hans-Peter Konig
Queen of the Night: Albina Shagimuratova
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart being probably the most well-known and beloved classical music composer in the world, it is hard to complain about overkill when it comes to live performances of his works. Therefore, I could only rejoice at the thought of a double-whammy on Saturday with his Magic Flute at the Met in the afternoon and his Paris symphony just around the corner at the Avery Fisher Hall in the evening.
I had heard an impresssive amount of positive feedback regarding the Julie Taymor production, and that was the main reason I was excited about seeing it. Otherwise, I can't say that the opera itself has ever been on my short list of favorites, mostly because Singspiel has never particularly appealed to me. But the unusual number of young faces in the sold-out crowd reminded me that it is first and foremost a mysterious story that is a lot of fun too, even if it never comes close to the comic genius that Mozart so magisterially demonstrated in Le Nozze de Figaro, for example. Hearing his music, however, remains one of life's highest pleasures, and the prospect of a feast for the eyes to complement it could only add to the anticipation.
The plot is a fairy tale combining farce and seriousness, featuring a bunch of colorful (indeed!) characters and taking place in Egypt, the traditional birthplace of Masonic fraternity. Since both Mozart and his librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, were dedicated Freemasons themselves, it is not really surprising that the fraternal order is frequently evoked throughout the work. Familiarity with its rituals, however, is not a prerequisite to enjoy the opera.
This production had been advertised as visually stunning, and sure enough, for more than three hours we witnessed a never-ending parade of various shapes and colors as new decors and costumes kept on popping up all over the stage. Egyptians symbols, hints to Eastern religions and weird-looking puppets added bright touches of exoticism while a couple of characters truly stood out such as Monostatos, who did not hesitate to frequently flash his rotund and hairy belly under his bat wings, and the Japanese-looking Queen of the Night and her multiple fluttering wings.
All the singers were obviously game and seemed to have a fine time, especially Nathan Gunn who was a wonderfully endearing Papageno. The lead couple, Matthew Polenzani and Julia Kleiter, had lovely moments as steadfast Tamino and sweet Pamina. Last, but by no means least, Albina Shagimuratova was spectacularly arresting in the short but instrumental role of the Queen of the Night and carried out her second aria, "Der Hölle Rache", with unrestrained fierceness and clarity, sending the world-famous high notes flying all over the opera house.
Once in a while this non-stop mish-mash totally overwhelmed Mozart's delicate music as our eyes were too full to let our ears take anything in, but the committed singing eventually put everything back into place and let us enjoy this festive celebration of the eternal battle of good and evil to the fullest.