The IU Opera Theatre is closing its 2004-2005 season with the work that closed Mozart’s own opera career, "The Magic Flute" in a musically satisfying production led by Principal Guest Conductor Uriel Segal with stage direction by Vincent Liotta.
The noble Prince Tamino, Creighton James, with his comical sidekick the bird catcher Papageno, Christopher Bolduc, enter into a quest. Tamino seeks wisdom and the hand of Pamina, Alexis Lundy, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, Karen Kness. Papageno too seeks a bride, but is willing to let the wisdom go. Opposing them is the misguided Queen of the night with her ladies. Supporting and testing the seekers is Sarastro, John Paul Huckle, the High Priest of the Masonically inspired Temple of the Sun. A side issue is the lustful servant Monostatos, Seth Hobson, who is set on Pamina.
The staging of the IU production of "The Magic Flute" leans toward direct simplicity. A good deal of the action is up front and much is sung straight to the audience. With the appealing Christopher Bolduc in his colorful costume as the bird catching Papageno this was engaging. With the nearly outrageous mugging of the ladies of the Queen of the Night’s retinue in their unflattering outfits it was a bit off putting.
Generally speaking the direction and the dressing of the production was a bit puzzling. Creighton James is a tall handsome tenor who sang well, but he was in no way a princely Pamino. The Queen of the night, Karen Kness did a fine job of negotiating the treacherous height of her part, especially in her second aria, but she’s been directed to be a good deal more commonly motherly than queenly. One could only feel sorry for Seth Hobson as he squeaked his way through the part of the wicked Monostatos. As if the ill-fitting black leather costume wasn’t bad enough, he also had to wear a bald wig. Speaking of costumes and wigs. Alexis Lundy sang beautifully as the Princess Pamina, but her generous, white puffy sleeved dress seemed out of another play, and why couldn’t her wig match the color of her hair. I’m not sure just what the High Priest of the Temple can be given to do to be dramatic, but whenever John Paul Huckle stopped with his rich voiced singing he seemed to just stand around allowing himself to be admired.
The design reused a set of tall, wheeled pyramids from an earlier production. They were rearranged from time to time, by black clad stagehands, sort of ninja style figures, who flitted to and fro rather distractingly. The pyramids themselves could be lighted in various potentially interesting ways, but looked a bit the worse for wear.
Now, let me finish by saying that musically this is a solidly entertaining evening of Mozart’s great music from the final period of his too short creative life. The orchestra’s playing, the soloists and the chorus are all very good. But opera is theatre, theatre-even musical theatre-is dominated by the visual, and the production doesn’t look as good as it sounds.
You can read this and other reviews and hear an interview with stage director Vincent Liotta on our George Walker’s Arts Interviews page.