Well, the opera crowd can be notoriously superstitious, but any doubts about mysterious interventions were resolved at last Friday’s performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. That slightly drippy night wasn’t nearly moist enough to dampen the spirits of a totally engaged company and a large, enthusiastic audience.
This is SFO’s reprise—the only revival of the five opera this summer—of its 2006 production, and it’s a Flute that merits a second look. Some people still complain about the show’s Spartan staging. Director Tim Albery, a firm believer that less is more, declines the directorial razzmatazz that this opera often receives.
No chariots drawn by lions. No hot-air balloons for the Three Boys. No cutie-pie animals for Orpheus-Tamino to serenade. Big-bang special effects? Well, the serpent that slithers onstage in the opening bars isn’t bad but, after she’s disposed of, there’s no more stage smoke. This show takes its cues from the music rather than the shtick that impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart’s librettist and original Papageno, delighted in.
Often, the sparer the visuals, the better we can hear and relish the marvels of the score. That was the lesson Wieland Wagner taught 60 years ago at Bayreuth. Albery brings a similar attitude to Mozart’s music drama.
Risks abound. Singers don’t have stage effects to hide behind. What you hear is what you get. Thus, the virtue of this production: Artists employ its transparent staging to show us, unencumbered, the glories of the music.
Ekaterina Siurina debuts at SFO as Pamina. The purity of her voice, the apparent simplicity of her vocal inflections make an indelible impression of the heroine’s vulnerability and pain. Forget if you can for a moment her broken-hearted, exquisite “Ach, ich fhls.” For me, Pamina-Siurina’s climactic moment lies in her tiny phrase just before the Trials: “Tamino mein! O welch ein Glck!” In barely four bars, Siurina expresses the joyful truth of the opera.
Erin Morley, in another brilliant debut as the Queen of the Night, sings fearlessly and with easy accuracy. Still, I can’t buy the directorial decision for her last-minute reconciliation with Sarastro. This woman ranks high with Jung’s archetypal Terrible Mothers of all time.
When last I heard Charles Castronovo, this show’s Tamino, he was capering on a massive haystack as the doltish Nemorino in stage director Laurent Pelly’s L’Elisir d’Amore for the Paris Opera. Now he’s the nobly sung, gracefully enacted prince of Mozart’s fairy tale. Over the years since his SFO Ferrando, Castronovo’s voice has grown in power and expressivity; it’s a pleasure to have him back.
As it is for Joshua Hopkins, the endearing Papageno from 2006. His warm, bright baritone delights yet again. Andrea Silvestrelli, returning as Sarastro, continues to be the basso profundissimo. And Timothy Oliver’s Monostatos teems with malice.
Lesser roles are well-taken, and the ensemble work, as is usual with SFO’s Mozart, can’t be faulted. Susanne Sheston prepared the capable chorus. After a slam-bang overture, conductor Lawrence Renes offered energetic support for his singers.
Albery’s vision gets strong support from Tobias Hoheisel’s spare set and brotherhood-of-man costumes, which mingle 18th century philosophies with Buddhist monks, Gestapo thugs who dance a jig and a hip-hop bird catcher. So what if Albery’s staging of the ineffable Trials fails, as usual, to convince?
I’ll just paraphrase Shakespeare’s Theseus: Let the fault be amended in our own imaginations. Let the Trials of Fire and Water be on, and in, our own heads.