LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)

La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Met Opera at the Movies: Review of The Magic Flute

By Joseph So / December 31, 2006

To devotees of such 21st century pastimes as Play Station 3 and Ipods, opera as an entertainment genre seems hopelessly out of date. But if Peter Gelb has his way, it is all going to change. Since taking over as the General Manager of the venerable Metropolitan Opera, Gelb wasted no time in overhauling the Met and the stuffy image of grand opera in general. A former Columbia Artists Management executive and head of Sony Records, Gelb has vast experience in marketing and promotion which he is putting to good use in revitalizing the Met. For starters, he opened the current season with a colourful new production of Madama Butterfly, simulcast on the Lincoln Centre Plaza and on Time Square. One had to give Mr. Gelb an “A” for effort, even if the singing did not measure to the best of the past. He even managed to get a five-minute spot on David Letterman recently, showcasing an excerpt from Barber of Seville. Another bold move by Gelb was establishing a new “Met channel” on Sirius satellite radio, with the promise of weekly live broadcasts interspersed with gems from the vast Met archives. This was made possible with new contractual arrangements with the artists and the orchestra. Too bad it is not available on Sirius Canada, but there is hope that it will be picked up in the near future.

But perhaps the boldest move is “Metropolitan Opera Goes to the Movies” project, a series of six high definition simulcasts in selected theatres across North America, Europe and Japan, of the best from the current Met season. The series kicked off today in four Cineplex theatres in the Greater Toronto Area, featuring a shortened version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, sung in English. I attended the showing at the Sheppard Grande, which was completely sold out for the occasion. Judging by the surfeit of older faces, it was more of an opera – as opposed to a typical movie – audience, although there was a good sprinkling of children likely there with their grandparents.

The simulcast went off without a hitch, with Gelb introducing the show, followed by glimpses of the artists and the production crew getting ready backstage. The Met could not have chosen a better show to open the series. The Julie Taymor production has put magic back in Magic Flute, and one that translates well to video. Who can resist the dancing bears, fluttering birds, and the cornucopia of flying foods in front of Papageno? For this special presentation, the Met has assembled an excellent cast. Whatever disappointment Canadians felt for not getting Isabel Bayrakdarian as Pamina – she sang in the earlier performances – was assuaged by the adorable Pamina of Chinese soprano Ying Huang. Huang sang with consistently lovely, warm, focused tone, without a hint of shrillness. As Tamino, American tenor Matthew Polenzani was suitably princely and his sweet tone a pleasure to the ear. The Queen of the Night is by necessity a one-dimensional character, and her appearance in the opera is brief but spectacular given the right voice. Erika Mikosa made the most of her eight minutes, nailing all the high notes with aplomb, while sounding and looking sufficiently menacing. But the most outstanding of the principals was Nathan Gunn as an ideal Papageno, whose manly baritone was richly resonant, while oozing boyish charm at every turn. German bass Rene Pape may lack the basso profundo low notes to be a truly distinguished Sarastro, but he is still among the best in the business. Greg Fedderly was excellent as Monostatos, who incidentally is not made up as a black person in this production.

The set design by George Tsypin combined Asian motifs, neo-Egyptian elements and 21st century stylistic touches. I liked almost everything except for the trial by fire and water, which couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of the video camera. There was much hand-wringing by opera purists over the intended cuts to the score, but from my vantage point, it was judiciously done. Less than 20 minutes of music were excised. The biggest cuts were made to Pamina’s music, although even Tamino’s “Dies Bildnis” was truncated. Interestingly, some of the tedious goings-on with Papageno-Papagena survived, but in the hands of Gunn and Jennifer Aylmer (Papagena), one shouldn’t complain too much. Variously advertised as a 90 or a 100 minute show, it ended up 110 minutes, with no intermission. The new English translation by J.D. McClatchy was fine – a nice balance between textual clarity and the demands of the vocal line. With the possible exception of Mikosa, the diction of the cast was exemplary, with the best belonging to Polenzani. I was a little disappointed at the so-called high definition – the picture quality just wasn’t as bright and clear as I had anticipated. My disappointment with the video quality was matched by the sound, which to my ears didn’t have the surround-sound like theatrical experience one has come to expect. Perhaps the technology will improve in future simulcasts. However, at the end of the day, Peter Gelb and the Met – and Cineplex – are to be commended for bringing opera to the people, and this was surely an auspicious beginning to greater things to come.

> The Met Goes to the Movies

> Cineplex

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

(c) La Scena Musicale 2000-2006