An Absolute Delight
MARIA NOCKIN finds perfection in
Los Angeles Opera's revival of Peter Hall's
1993 production of 'The Magic Flute'
In 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote Die Zauberflöte ('The Magic Flute') together with Emanuel Schikaneder for the suburban Theater auf der Wieden. Since the work was not for one of the more urbane opera houses of Vienna, the libretto is a little less formal and more fun loving than those written for more important theatres by Lorenzo da Ponte. At the first performance, Mozart conducted and Schikaneder sang Papageno. The work was a tremendous popular success and reached its one-hundredth performance just over one year later.
Matthew Polezani and animals in Los Angeles Opera's production of Mozart's 'The Magic Flute'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
On 10 January 2009, Los Angeles Opera revived Peter Hall's 1993 production of this opera. The well-cast singspiel was the perfect antidote to the current economic downturn and post-holiday blues. Director Stanley M Garner told the charming fairy tale in an eminently understandable fashion. Designer Gerald Scarfe dressed the singers as cartoon characters, an idea that added to the interest of the show as a whole, but made the leading tenor appear to be less of a matinee idol. The lighting effects by Michael Gottlieb, after Richard Pilbrow's original design, kept the stage picture interesting at all times.
Nathan Gunn as Papageno. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
In the role of Papageno, the part originally played by Schikaneder, Los Angeles Opera cast the golden-voiced Nathan Gunn, one of People Magazine's sexiest men alive for 2008. His physique was not all that apparent in his bird costume, but he was often funny and at times when his character's life was not going well, quite poignant.
Günther Groissböck as Sarastro and Marie Arnet as Pamina in 'The Magic Flute'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Swedish soprano Marie Arnet, who sang Pamina, was a brand new artist to many of us. An attractive young singer, she had luminous, well-supported clear tones and a well-thought-out interpretation. Her Tamino, Matthew Polenzani, sang with a smooth legato and his own wonderfully warm timbre. When they sang together, they were an absolute delight.
L'Ubica Vargicová as The Queen of Night. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
During the pre-opera talk, conductor James Conlon mentioned that he wanted Pamina's stern mother, The Queen of the Night, to be played by a soprano with some 'steel' in her voice. L'ubica Vargicová had that, and a great deal more. Her coloratura was amazingly accurate and even the most difficult triplets posed no problem for her. As the man who may once have been the Queen's husband, Sarastro, Günther Groissböck sang with a mellifluous bass voice that surged to the rafters of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Günther Groissböck, Greg Fedderly and Marie Arnet. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
One would normally expect to hear baritone Matthias Goerne as Papageno, but here he was cast as The Speaker. It seems that he told Maestro Conlon that he was tired of the bird catcher and agreed to sing the smaller part. As Monostatos, the comic villain, Greg Fedderly was riotously funny while singing with well-placed tenor tones.
Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Amanda Squiteri as Papagena. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
The Three Ladies, Tamara Wilson, Lauren McNeese and Beth Clayton, seemed to embody all seven deadly sins! Clayton, in particular, had an overly inquisitive personality and the angular movements of a dope addict. The three Genii were played by charming little boys from the Los Angeles Children's Chorus.
Matthew Polezani as Tamino and Marie Arnet as Pamina. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
James Conlon seemed to be having a wonderful time conducting this. From my seat I could watch the enjoyment of this piece reflected in his facial expression. Everything went according to plan on this evening and the orchestra's playing was close to perfection. This really was a magical Magic Flute.
Copyright © 26 January 2009
Maria Nockin, Arizona USA