It's all gold, the pure 24-karat stuff, that the Santa Fe Opera's dispensing in its gleaming new production of The Magic Flute. The company brings a Midas touch to Mozart's mythic valediction in one of the warmest, truest and most affecting shows in its history. Golden anniversary presents just don't come much better than this one.
For one thing, it's swift and spare. Plenty of ***image1***times, this opera is so encrusted with clotted symbolism and eye-splitting spectacle that its supposedly simple lessons get lost in stage apparatus and directorial whimsy.
The company, with William Lacey's quick-paced musical direction and Tim Albery's penetrating staging, follows the Confucian dictum, "Make It New," to the letter. The Three Spirits, bald, solemn-eyed children robed in saffron, sing like angels, though in real life they're Kevin Chavez, Maya Rose Tweten and Maloy Pierce. Tobias Hoheisel's minimalist set pays homage to the elegant simplicity of the SFO's first theater, 1957's checkerboard redwood panels now transformed to the marble walls of the Queen of the Night's realm and to the golden paneling of Sarastro's sober kingdom. While the opera's arias and ensembles are sung in German, Albery has replaced the leaden spoken dialogue with sprightly English couplets.
This Flute mingles time periods and cultural identities to emphasize universalist themes. There's the already-mentioned Asian connection. The pale Queen, brilliantly presented by Heather Buck, and her ladies appear stiffly constrained in Elizabethan court costume, again Hoheisel's designs. Sarastro, the noble basso profundo assoluto Andrea Silvestrelli, and his community wear somber-suited, vaguely Masonic apparel of Mozart's own time. Monostatos, busily played by David Cangelosi, and his serio-comic sidekicks flirt with Gestapo allusions.
Of the other principals, Joshua Hopkins makes a warm-hearted, featherless Papageno. He's a hunky all-American guy in denim clam-diggers, T-shirt and beaky baseball cap, with a ***image2***healthy libido and an appetite for junk food. Toby Spence, magnificent and maybe the next big Mozart tenor, exhibits a stage-filling Prince William-esque demeanor as Tamino.
In her first time out as Pamina, Natalie Dessay embodies French chic, tragic in a simple shift or simply herself in '50s, Dior-casual skirt and blouse. Her anguished, exquisitely nuanced "Ach, ich fühls" breaks every heart in the house.
And Albery's staging of the finale breaks sharply with the traditional radiant sunburst and excited rejoicing. Echoing the Countess' sublime gesture at the end of Figaro, Sarastro forgives the Queen and escorts her into his domain, while Pamina and Tamino walk into the darkness that lies beyond the bright world of the theater. In an opera filled with farewells, this becomes Mozart's last, long goodbye.