The Magic Flute
Huang, Miklósa; Polenzani, Gunn, Pape; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Levine. Production: Taymor. Sony Classical 88697 91013 9, 112 mins., subtitled
The Met performs two different versions of its famous Julie Taymor production of Die Zauberflöte, but the abridgment in English — the so-called "Family Flute" seen here in a telecast from December 2006 — is so far the only one available on video.
Mozart devotees should be aware that this child's portion, using J. D. McClatchy's mostly clear and appropriate translation, cuts about a third of the opera, leaving it at standard movie length. Some signature pieces vanish — important scenes for Pamina, half of the overture and most of Tamino's "Dies Bildnis."
The result is a reduction favoring special effects, action, comedy and animals — even more a cartoon Flute than Taymor's full version,and animated in both senses of the word. What child of any age could resist? Taymor and Michael Curry's alluring oversized menagerie is intact, with its bird-conveyance for the Three Boys, whirling serpent and dancing bears. Video shows off the animal accessories for Papageno and an even more avian Monostatos. For Sarastro and the aquiline, clawed Queen of the Night, Taymor crafts magnifying carapaces that make it hard to decide where costume stops and set design begins. Masks are used brilliantly for the Three Ladies and simulated in facial makeup for the other human characters.
Yet, even in slimmed form, the production loses steam after the brilliant opening segments; frequent close-ups, under Gary Halvorson's video direction, only emphasize Taymor's tendency to under-direct the serious music. The Queen of the Night's wall-sized wings spread and seethe entrancingly in the slow half of her first aria, but when the tempo accelerates, the eye longs for some starbursts or other astronomical effects. Sarastro seems to stump the producers. Some camera ballet adds interest to his "O Isis and Osiris" in a gold lamé temple of a costume, but George Tsypin's sets for the "masonic" pageants are vague and static.
In its eagerness to leave no child behind, this staging virtually becomes Papageno's opera, and Nathan Gunn is the perfect antidote to the longueurs elsewhere. His musical and comic timing is impeccable, and those acrobatic moves, some added for television no doubt, have the Gene Kelly blend of casual strength. Greg Fedderly's grotesque Monostatos goes overboard for laughs; Erika Miklósa contributes a nasty, vocally dazzling Queen of the Night, and Ying Huang's soubrette-weight soprano caresses Pamina's lyrical lines.
In Matthew Polenzani the production has a musical, somewhat neutral Tamino, without nobility of tone or diction. Discomfort is written all over René Pape as he negotiates Sarastro's extreme range and English vowels, not to mention such unnecessary tongue twisters as "faithful and forthright." James Levine conducts with his accustomed balance and fine articulation; only some frayed choral tone mars the big climaxes.
DAVID J. BAKER
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