All photos : Canadian Opera Company / Michael Cooper
Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is dazzled by COC’s The Magic Flute
After more than two years of turmoil and anguish, it’s fitting that the Canadian Opera Company chose to end its “Season Like No Other” with Mozart’s The Magic Flute. This beloved comic opera offers just the right mix of beauty and frivolity, a tale about trying to find our way through a maze of truth and obfuscation to a place of love that offers all of us a glorious escape.
The opera tells the story of Prince Tamino and his hapless sidekick, the bird catcher Papageno, who are sent to rescue the princess Pamina from the evil sorcerer Sorastro. There are trials and instant love, fearsome beasts and magical instruments, and just enough thoughtful pondering on the nature of wisdom and truth to offer some substance amid the frothy silliness.
And, above all, there is the music. The COC orchestra is beautifully conducted by Patrick Lange, who takes full advantage of the dynamics of Mozart’s score, letting power show through but never once overwhelming the singers.
Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” Dazzles
The Magic Flute is best known for the Queen of the Night aria, a soprano showpiece in which the imperious Queen tells her daughter that she will be disowned if she doesn’t kill Sorastro. Norwegian soprano Caroline Wettergreen, making her Canadian debut here, is marvellous in the role and in this aria in particular. Her Queen is all cheekbones and rage, singing with the purity and malice of a crystal skull tequila bottle, if a crystal skull tequila bottle could effortlessly rip out ringing high Fs and coloratura runs.
She is aided in her performance by stunning costumery by Myung Hee Cho. While most of the characters are dressed in 18th century attire (this production is set in 1791, the year the opera was written), the Queen and her Three Ladies are clad in High Goth, all black leather and sharp angles, as if they’ve just stopped in en route to a biker bar in Hades. The effect is stunning.
The success of this production also owes much to the direction, originally by Diana Paulus and in this revival by Anna Theodasakis. The first act is presented as a play within a play, set in a garden party where the opera is being performed by a mix of guests and travelling players.
Lost in a Maze
In the second act, we zoom past the garden proscenium, entering a hedge maze where the action takes place in an ever-changing series of outdoor rooms. When the characters sing that they can’t find their way out of the maze, we fully believe them – we are stuck in the maze with them, and fully engaged with their quest.
This is particularly remarkable given that the plot itself has devolved by this point into a mess of mysticism and Freemasonry; something about the couple passing through trials in order to prove their worth to the keepers of a mysterious priestly order. It all makes about as much sense as the theology of a Marvel movie, but no matter: the production is fabulous, the singing is glorious, and by this point we just don’t need to care about the quest. We are on board, and we’re loving every moment of the ride.
Musically, the other showpiece number in The Magic Flute belongs to Papageno. Canadian baritone Gordon Bintnertruly owns this role, not just for his marvellous voice, but also for his incredible comic presence. This is a very funny role, and a demanding one; Papageno has more solo stage time than any other character, and Bintner makes the most of every second.
Local Artist Development Program a Success
Throughout the opera, Papageno laments the fact that he may never have a girlfriend or wife, his very own Papagena. Of course, in the second act he does indeed meet Papagena (Midori Marsh, a member of the COC Ensemble Studio, who is surely on the path to a promising career, and they fall instantly in love. Their love duet is touching and funny all at once, and Marsh and Bintner absolutely nail it. You can see a video clip of their performance here.
Bintner is a graduate of the COC’s Ensemble Studio, as is soprano Anna-Sophie Neher, who is mesmerising in the role of Pamina. Their performances, along with those of a number of other Ensemble Studio members in the cast, are testament to the success of this local artist development program.
The trio of Jamie Groote, Charlotte Siegel, and Lauren Segal is particularly engaging as the Three Ladies, their harmonies and performance both consistently strong and engaging. Bass David Leigh is an absolute delight in the role of Sarastro. This role plumbs the very depths of the bass register, and Leigh seems quite happy to dive as deeply as Mozart wants him to. His voice is resonant and powerful, right to the very depths.
The COC has labelled this A Season Like No Other, and it’s to be hoped that the moniker is accurate. After more than two years of online shows or no shows at all, it’s a delight to be back at the Four Seasons Centre. The season wraps up in June with an original solo show, The Queen In Me, which explores the ways that race, gender, and sexuality are explored in opera. It runs at the Opera Company Theatre on Front Street.
Next year’s season opens in October, with two favourites: Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and Bizet’s Carmen.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is Editor and CEO at Dockside Publishing. To learn more about the good life in Muskoka, Simcoe, and Georgian Bay, visit them online at www.docksidepublishing.com
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