The COC’s Magic Flute, on stage in Toronto, is “enchanting, spectacular, and fun”
At first I was confused by the action during the overture in the Canadian Opera Company’s current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Die Zauberflöte does not typically involve a large household filled with servants and nobility. It is a fantastical romp wherein a young prince and a bird-man set about to rescue a young maiden from the clutches of the high priest of an Egyptian sun cult at the behest of the girl’s mother, the evil Queen of the Night.
And yet, as the curtain lifted, out came a band of gaily dressed lords, ladies and servants, complete with serving trays. They soon gathered round a stage within the stage to watch a garden performance of Mozart’s new opera. This was a charming twist in an otherwise very traditional production, although it did result in the action of the first act taking place in a fraction of the available space.
The second act took the audience inside the mini stage, and the storytelling occurred on the full stage for the rest of the performance. Lush greenery predominated the set, and panels that resembled the walls of a garden maze were adjusted for scene changes.
The costume design, by Myung Hee Cho, was a triumph. Everything from the Queen of the Night’s dramatic hood and BDSM inspired gown to Papageno’s outfit, which looked like a vaudeville clown and big bird had a beautiful love child, was flawless. The use of supernumeraries to represent the trial by fire and water at the end of the second act was glittery, beautiful, and quintessential Magic Flute.
Flute contains some of the most recognizable arias and duets in the repertoire. It is in the German Singspiel tradition, meaning that there are long passages of dialog between the musical numbers. This requires performers to be both excellent singers and actors. Audiences have high expectations of the arias, and there are long passages of exposed acting. The opening night cast for this production rose to the occasion and delivered a performance that was absolutely sublime.
Die Hölle Rache (sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Night’s mad aria) is arguably the most recognized opera excerpt in the world. It is unlikely that there are many coloraturas in the world at the moment who can give a better performance of this aria than Ambur Braid. Her effortless freedom and suppleness while singing through impossibly high and intricate passages, combined with a campy, sinister interpretation of the role, was glorious.
Joshua Hopkins demonstrated a peerless command of physical comedy and timing in the role of Papageno, the simple bird-man looking for love. The duet he sings with the bird girl of his dreams is another highlight of this opera and his performance of it with Jacqueline Woodley was absolutely delightful.
I had not heard Elena Tsallagova sing before, but could now listen to her all day. Her voice is syrupy, robust and pure, with a hearty, rapid vibrato. Her performance of “Ach Ich Fuhls,” Pamina’s show stopping second act aria yielded all the satisfaction of fine truffles.
Andrew Haji was very endearing as the naïve young hero Tamino. Haji’s dulcet and unassuming lyricism is united with confident, effortless control. His arias and duets were carefree and magical, very much in the spirit of this favourite.
I must also give a shout out to principal flautist Douglas Stewart, who has a big role in this work. His performance of Tamino’s song that protects him from danger captured the ethereal and surreal quality of the forest every time.
Director Diane Pualus did not tamper much with tradition, choosing instead to innovate within the established performance practice for this work. This production is enchanting, spectacular, and fun, which is all The Magic Flute needs to be. This was the perfect fluff piece to see on the eve of one of the most depressing days in recorded history. A great show to sweep away the winter and political blahs.
- The Magic Flute is playing until February 24, 2017 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
- Show times are 7:30 PM on January 28 & February 1, 3, 7, 10, 16, 18 & 24, with an additional matinees at 2:00 PM on January 29 and February 19, and 4:30 PM on February 4.
- Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).
Photo of Andrew Haji by Michael Cooper