Here I am typing at 12:30 a.m. on a weeknight. What on earth compels me to such behavior? Pardon me for a moment while I cut off my hands and avoid further troubles of this nature.
There, all better. No more pesky hands. Anyway.
Not fair, but something drove me to wonder:
If I spoke no German (which is almost true), and weren't reading my Met titles (which is utterly true), and didn't know The Magic Flute (which is regrettably false) what would I think this was about? I am rotten to the core for thinking it, because there are many fine productions that don't go in for, oh, y'know, representational schemes of action. But just for fun I tried it.
And I'm pretty sure after the first act, I would think it was about this goth kid who got abducted by aliens who took him to the fanciest store in the mall during a Star Trek convention.
I think any review of this Magic Flute is just bound to be production-centered, because for better or for worse, the production is absolutely overwhelming. I'm about 30/70 on the for better or for worse question. It seemed to me a production concieved with an audience in mind who didn't find The Magic Flute very interesting and needed a shitload of (extremely imaginative) distractions. And then I thought this over and decided it couldn't be right because of course I don't find The Magic Flute very interesting and the kitchen-sinkiness of things gave me a little bit of a headache so clearly I wasn't the target demo. Perhaps it's for people who don't find opera in general all that interesting? I don't mean to be needlessly negative here. I could be way off base. It's just that at several points I found myself suddenly unaware of the singing because there was so much other mishegoss, ranging from cutesy mishegoss to awe-inspiring mishegoss, to digest.
I suspect this possibility occured to me right around the time the gi-normous bears, which were a perfectly bewitching bit of stagecraft, roared in some unpleasantly amplified fashion. Almost as bewitching were they, I think, as the is-it-set or is-it-costume? winglike dealios wielded by the Sternflammende Konigin [here translated because someone finally got a clue as "Star-shimmering queen." I mean, you just can't get away with "flaming" and "queen" together at the opera without everyone getting a horrible case of the giggles.] So you see, there was much, much I liked in this Magic Flute, only it just was excessive in a way that made me want to stomp on my eyes after a while. There were enough visual chimera for four operas, including I hope one or two I like.
Of everyone, Nathan Gunn looked most comfortable in these surroundings. I'm really not in love with his singing (though for god's sake, the man is still handsome dressed as a flingin' flangin' parakeet) but I don't think he's bad either. Just a little undervoiced, especially in this solid cast, and somewhat bland as a stage presence, but very pleasant if not inspired, and in this ungepotchket* landscape, sort of cute and funny.
Who was not undervoiced is Eric Cutler, that's who. We all know the Met is rolling in excellent lyric mezzos, but I think we can maybe add Mozart tenors now to the category of voices we're not running low on. This instrument doesn't round the bends as fleetly as Polenzani's, but it has this confounding quality of undiminished softness across its considerable dynamic range. Dramatically, he looked a bit lost, but then it's possible he assumed from his costume he was making his role debut as Nanki-Poo, so anyone would be confused.
I'd like to say nicer things about Mary Dunleavy. I feel like I've heard she's reliable and hardworking and other things we like. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of voice in Pamina. A little unruly in what apparently is a deceptively grueling role--does anyone remember the Opera News interview in which Cheryl Studer and some other sopranos said they'd rather sing any number of Der Holle Raches than a single run through the g minor aria?--and not of the youthful color that makes me excuse the gal for being such a bore.
Morris Robinson has by virtue of the glorious color and presence of his voice stepped permanently into the spotlight, no? The very bottom isn't booming, but the solidity makes for pure aural gratification. And Erika Miklosa might call for a second spotlight if everything she sings is as good as her Astrafiammante. The last note of O Zittre Nicht was iffy; the rest was perfection. The measures leading up to the not so secure F (high note experts? F? F#?), the ones that make it clear Mozart was high or joking, included every single cotton-pickin' note, and the triplets in the vengeance aria were equally jaw-dropping.
You know, back in September I looked at this season as announced and thought, "What a dud!" And I'm happy to say I was wrong. It hasn't been wall to wall excitement, but it's been studded with here and there the extremely winning performance and many strong ones in between.
As a parting shot and call to arms, where is the mighty cult of Podles, and why was I able to pick, by letter, the row of my tickets with her Avery Fisher concert a month away? Come forth, you admirers of Ewa, and make this thing not get cancelled, y'hear?
*ask your bubbe what it means, and if you don't got one, ask your friend with the name what ends in -stein.