Toronto’s Baroque opera company Opera Atelier brings Mozart’s The Magic Flute to the Elgin Theatre
Mozart’s The Magic Flute is one of the most popular and widely performed works in the opera canon. It’s no surprise that Opera Atelier, Toronto’s resident company specializing in Baroque operas, is closing their 2012-13 season with a revival of their production of the opera; their fourth Flute in 22 years.
The opera tells the story of Prince Tamino and his mischievous, wise-cracking companion, the bird catcher Papageno. The pair are set on a quest by The Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina who has been abducted by her arch nemesis Sarastro.
On opening night I saw quite a few young children in the audience. My guest for the night, fellow Mooney on Theatre editor Lauren, is a relative newcomer to opera and she told me she really enjoyed the experience. I think The Magic Flute makes a perfect introductory opera with one or two caveats.
The story of the Magic Flute is a timeless if sometimes obtuse Enlightenment allegory densely packed with Masonic references; both Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were Freemasons. It also requires you to laugh off some blatantly sexist and racist elements in the script or at least place them in their historical context, I suppose.
For example, the Moorish character Monostatos is the villain in the piece. In this production Tenor Aaron Ferguson wears a mask and portrays him less menacingly and more as a buffoon, at times channeling Jerry Lewis, but the character still never sits well with me.
Those elements aside, company co-founders and co-artistic directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg; the production’s director and choreographer respectively, have created a sumptuous, engaging and beautifully-staged Magic Flute.
Opera Atelier specializes in creating period-accurate presentations of Baroque operas and it’s a niche they inhabit very well. Going to an Opera Atelier production is like seeing Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre or dining at a traditional French bistro; you know you’re going to get a (hopefully) well-executed traditional version of a classic and don’t expect anything too trendy or experimental.
This Magic Flute is heavily influenced by the aesthetic of the Baroque period featuring ornate costumes, Gerard Gauci’s gorgeous scenic design consisting of painted scrims and backdrops flying on and off the stage and Zingg’s classical choreography and movement design featuring period-accurate, if exaggerated, stylized posing and gesturing.
Another aspect I enjoy in Opera Atelier productions is the relative youth of the cast. Opera is an art form where performers peak later in their careers so the casting of younger singers gives us a great opportunity to see and hear some amazing emerging talent.
Stand-out performances include Colin Ainsworth whose balanced delivery and warm tenor lend a likable, sympathetic quality to Prince Tamino and bass-baritone Olivier LaQuerre who displays an incredibly honed sense of comedic timing in his often scene-stealing turn as Papageno.
Soprano Ambur Braid is a highlight as The Queen of the Night; a notoriously difficult role because of the range and vocal control required. Although a bit on the young side to be playing the character, Braid has the range and the incredible vocal agility for the part and already has an ease and familiarity with the tricky role. Her performance of the Queen’s Act II aria is the vocal equivalent of watching a Cirque du Soleil performer effortlessly flipping and contorting.
Maestro David Fallis leads the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra through Mozart’s marvelous score although from where I sat (orchestra level, just under the balcony overhang) I found the volume a bit low.
Overall, after experiencing Opera Atelier’s production it’s easy to see why The Magic Flute is such a beloved classic. Whether you’re new to the opera or a regular patron you’re bound to find something to love about Opera Atelier’s resplendent and whimsical Magic Flute.
- The Magic Flute is playing from April 6 – 13, 2013 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St., Toronto.
- Shows run April 6, 9, 10, 12 and 13 at 7:30PM and April 7 at 3:00PM
- Tickets $35 – $175
- Tickets are available in person through Ticketmaster at 1-855-622-
- ARTS(2787) or www.ticketmaster.ca, or at the Elgin Theatre Box Office (189 Yonge Street).
Photo of Colin Ainsworth and Penelope Randall-Davisby by Bruce Zinger.