by Anthony Kershaw
April 6th, 2013. Elgin Theatre, Toronto, ON — Opera Atelier, Toronto’s wonderful baroque opera company has revived its 1991 Magic Flute to close the 2013 season. The production is directed by Opera Atelier’s founder, Marshall Pynkoski and conducted by David Fallis. Performed in the acoustically dull but magnificent looking Elgin Theatre, a packed and enthusiastic opening night crowd were treated to a visually sumptuous production of Mozart’s masterpiece.
Director Pynkoski decided to perform the opera in English and to use librettist Emanuel Schikaneder’s full text for spoken parts (from Andrew Porter’s translation). I much prefer the original German (Die Zauberflöte) and was surprised at this decision. The direction also encouraged the comedy — played for all it was worth by a superb Papageno, Olivier LaQuerre. Tafelmusik, Toronto’s famous period instrument orchestra, was in the pit. Longtime Atelier collaborator Gerard Gauci designed the stunning sets.
Musically and dramatically, the production was uneven. The ‘Singspiel’, as envisaged by Mozart, is a difficult form. The balance between the words and Mozart’s magnificent music has to be just right or it topples into cartoon territory. Here, the territory was decidedly vaudeville. The lightness of the solo voices did no harm to the concept, but Mozart was shortchanged. When voices were in ensemble, as in the Three Ladies, Three Boys (sung by ladies) or the large chorus, the singing was quite brilliant. Several solo voices had difficulty projecting their low registers in the dull acoustic while coping with Mozart’s unforgiving writing.
That said, Ambur Braid’s two difficult turns as Queen of the Night were thrilling to hear and her bravery was encouraged by the audience. By the middle of the famous ‘Der Hölle Rach’ aria, Ms. Braid had the wind in her sails and all was brilliant.
Tafelmusik accompanied well — David Fallis shaped the phrases beautifully and built tension through the chorus. But, for long periods he was sitting, smiling and waiting as the cast mugged its way through Schikanader’s lengthy dialogue.
Any serious subtext as designed by Mozart has been diluted in Pynkoski’s production. It’s a brave decision as there are lofty ideals at work. Producers have been wrestling with the libretto for two hundred years — pantomime or drama? For me, the music demands more of the latter and a judicious cut in the former. Here, the admirable Pynkoski has got the froth of the latte just right, but the coffee is decaffeinated.
The Magic Flute runs April 6, 9, 10, 12 and 13, 2013 at 7:30pm and April 7 at 3:00pm.
More from Opera Atelier’s 2013 The Magic Flute