Photo: Tim Matheson

Vancouver Opera
The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart, libretto by Emanuel Schickaneder

When & Where October 21 at 7:30pm, October 26 at 7:30pm, October 28 at 7:30pm | October 29 at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Tamino Owen McCausland Pamina Kirsten MacKinnon Queen of the Night Audrey Luna Monostatos Roger Honeywell Sarastro Neil Craighead Papageno Clarence Frazer Papagena McKenzie Warriner 1st Lady Melody Courage 2nd Lady Stephanie Tritchew 3rd Lady Emma Parkinson Speaker Micah Schroeder 1st Priest Alan Corbishley 2nd Priest Martin Renner Wallace. The Vancouver Opera Orchestra and the Vancouver Opera Chorus

ConductorTania Miller Revival Director Ashlie Corcoran Original Director Diane Paulus Chorus Director Tina Chang Set and Costume Design Myung Hee Cho Lighting Design Stage Manager Marijka Asbeek Brusse

In German with English surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

There was a whiff of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker in Vancouver Opera''s production of The Magic Flute in an introduced scenario which plays out during the Overture. Servants bustle, guests arrive at a great house laden with gifts, there is a charming young woman whose birthday it is and a watchful father. Also a singularly unpleasant suitor, a beautiful young man and some very odd gatecrashers. The guests arrange themselves on either side of a tiny theatre, the curtain is winched up by a stage hand and the fairy tale begins.

From the grand opening chords, it was clear the orchestra was in good hands. Tania Milller drew a confident and agile performance from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. With crisp conducting and steady attention for the singers she explored the richness of the music, its interplay of elegance and frankness, seriousness and comedy, depth and lightness with sensitivity and intelligence.

Kirsten MacKinnon made Pamina all her own with skips of excitement and 2 thumbs up for encouragement when Tamino needed it most. Her duet with Papageno "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen" (In men, who feel love) charmed with kindness and empathy, the two singers matching each other perfectly. Her honeyed voice contrasted with the unflinching commitment she brought to Pamina's heart-rending aria "Ach ich fühl es ist verschwunden"(Ah, I can feel it), and indeed to her whole performance. Clarence Frazer's energetic Papageno was humorous but tinged with melancholy as he searched for a Papagena (McKenzie Warriner).

Prince Tamino follows the hero’s journey, encountering many obstacles in his quest and finally achieving both love and wisdom. Owen McCausland’s Prince, a little stiff at first, grew in ease and warmth, and, like Pamina, visibly grew in confidence and a resolve firmly established by a beguiling legato line.

The three Ladies, Melody Courrage, Stephanie Tritchew and Emma Parkinson were deliciously affected sirens but sang like angels. The Queen of the Night (Audrey Luna) arrived with suddenness under a stunning star-blazing canopy, a coup de theatre matched by her scintillating aria "O zittre nicht,” (O, tremble not) super-fast points of sound, and high notes in the stratosphere. This stunning majesty was soon modulated to captivating Tamino’s heart with her daughter’s picture and sending him off on his quest to rescue her. In her second appearance, at Sarastro’s court, she was briefly lovingly maternal and then, with "Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (Hell's vengeance boils in my heart) vividly terrifying, stabbing her high notes with steely skill.

In contrast but equally accomplished, Sarastro’s (Neil Craighead) richly deep and dark tones spoke of calm authority. The Speaker (Micah Schroeder) and the rest of Sarastro’s court conveyed similar serious high-mindedness.

The opera-within-a-play conceit, originally conceived by the COC under the direction of Diane Paulus and re-mounted for Vancouver by Ashlie Corcoran, was very appealing. As the Overture “audience” left their seats to take their places on the stage, art and life merged. The somewhat artificial performances of the opening scenes soon gave way to ones both more ‘heightened’ in style and more natural in emotion. Ultimately though, the fairy-tale setting distanced the performance and weakened the mystery and darkness which lurks in all Mozart’s work. It was the singers who gave heart to this production.

Costumes and set by Myung Hee Cho were a bit of a mix. The second act replaced the picturesque ‘stage’ with a maze of moving hedges, very effective at creating an atmosphere though they became a bit repetitive. Costumes and beards for Sarastro and his court were nobly Assyrian in concept and enhanced the mystical aspects of the story. A stunning outfit for the Queen of the Night, a perfect ‘princess’ dress for Pamina and gorgeous black stays for the Ladies were memorable. The spirits’ outfits, from tricycle horses to little beards, were also endearing. The rest of the costuming was disappointing.

Not an intellectually deep production but fun. Take your children. The moments of 18th century distastefulness are quickly passed over or removed. Monostatos’ (Roger Honeywell) blackness was illustrated by his dark, Gothish garb and make-up in the Overture and by silent-film melodramatic antics in the opera proper. The puppets are fabulous; there is a three-headed dragon, a biting crocodile and some fantastical, beautiful birds. The action is lively and the singing terrific.

© 2023 Elizabeth Paterson