Die Zauberflöte
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In Review > North America

Die Zauberflöte 

Juilliard Opera

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Christine Taylor Price and Theo Hoffman, Pamina and Papageno, in Juilliard Opera's production of Die Zauberflöte
© Richard Termine 2016 
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Liv Redpath's Queen of the Night and Miles Mykkanen's Tamino
© Richard Termine 2016

JUILLIARD OPERA delivered a beautifully sung, engagingly acted production of Die Zauberflöte at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on April 19.  Led with verve by David Stern, the evening zipped along at a brisk pace that kept self-indulgence at bay and spurred both singers and orchestra to expressive urgency. Director Mary Birnbaum made it a true ensemble piece by emphasizing the relationships, frequently inserting characters into the action that are not normally onstage. This helped both performers and audience make connections they might otherwise have missed. Pamina’s portrait wasn’t the customary hand-held prop, invisible to all but Tamino who sings to it; rather, a giant picture frame rolled onstage and Pamina took her place within it as a tableau vivante. Nor was she stranded there for his entire aria. She descended from the frame to make physical contact with Tamino, thus justifying the instant attraction of their first actual meeting and making their pursuit of one another poignant and necessary. Pamina lurked in the shadows, distraught over Tamino’s abandonment, while Papageno played his bells to entice Papagena, connecting two characters both being driven mad by their beloveds’ inexplicable inattention.

Birnbaum and her designers, Grace Laubacher (sets), Moria Sine Clinton (costumes), and Anshuman Bhatia (lights), provided an adaptable three-walled setting that was open to interpretation, but hewed to the yin/yang of the plot with light wood and chandeliers for Sarastro’s enlightened domain, and a contrastingly dark cellar for the Queen of the Night’s kingdom. Dressed in jeans and stylish tops, Tamino and Pamina came across as teenagers, an impression solidified by the ascent of a disco ball during their trials, as if one of their obstacles was surviving prom. Conversely, the three guiding spirits were schoolgirls, tooling around the stage in heelys (with appropriate safety gear), snuggling under a quilt for a sleepover, or playing jump rope. The idea that teenagers might derive wisdom and receive guidance from their younger siblings or by reconnecting with their more innocent selves added an intriguing dimension to the theme of spiritual and emotional evolution, even as the spirits took their lessons from their elders’ behavior while munching popcorn, as if watching a movie. 

The voices were excellent across the board, with particular kudos to Christine Taylor Price’s gutsy Pamina and Miles Mykkanen’s buttery-voiced Tamino. From his first entrance chasing after flying puppets, Theo Hoffman’s geeky birder Papageno was a crowd-pleaser, with a solid, burnished baritone and a handy way with a self-deprecating retort. He was well-matched by Kara Sainz’s impish, bespectacled Papagena. Intense and fiery, Liv Redpath nailed most of the Queen of the Night’s pyrotechnics and offered a flash of humanity by delivering the final line of her Ac t II aria as an intimate prayer, rather than a declaration of war. As Sarastro, Önay Köse displayed a stentorian bass and the calm, easy command of one naturally in charge. 

The three ladies, Alexandra Razskazoff, Caitlin Redding, and Avery Amereau, offered distinctive vocal timbres, but still blended sublimely. As the three spirits, Christine Oh, Sophia Kaminski and Kelsey Lauritano, may have been working harder than necessary to sound like boy sopranos, but brought breezy, insouciant charm to every appearance. Alexander McKissick played into the teen bad-boy trope as Monostatos, while Thesele Kemane countered him elegantly as the Speaker. The company’s German diction in both song and dialogue was clear and comprehensible, and the ensemble acquitted themselves with dramatic focus and a warm choral sound. —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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