Sheer enchantment, magnificent singing and superb stagecraft.
Words that barely begin to describe this production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
After a bright crisp overture by the Lyric Orchestra, conducted by music director Andrew Davis, the curtain goes up on a beautiful world of blue rocks and mountains, populated by a large dragon and the handsome Prince Tamino, sung by the powerful American tenor Charles Castronovo in his Lyric debut. We also meet three lusty ladies, emissaries of the Queen of the Night, soprano Elisabeth Meister and mezzos Cecelia Hall and Katherine Lerner, whose voices blend as naturally as if they were sisters.
American soprano Audrey Luna in her Lyric debut fearlessly attacks the Queen of the Night’s treacherous arias and portrays the wild woman as the Mommy Dearest of the opera world.
Sprinkled throughout the adventures of the Prince and the mishaps of his sidekick, the birdcatcher Papageno, are theme park-style animals—a bear, a lion, a rhinoceros and dinosaur, which dance comically to Tamino’s magical flute. Plus, a winged black bird dances deftly crosses back and forth across the stage.
Papageno, sung by the irrepressible French baritone Stephane Degout, is a laugh a minute with his earthy humor and human foibles. That relief is much needed, as the solemn story features priests, character tests, vengeful mothers and separated lovers.
American soprano Nicole Cabell, one of Lyric’s outstanding Ryan Opera Center alums, sings the role of Pamina, Prince Tamino’s beloved, as if it had been written for her alone. The magnificent Austrian bass Gunther Groissbock makes his Lyric debut as the priest Sarastro.
The libretto includes three childen, Anna Stephan and Benjamin Hoppe, who were in Lyric’s ethereal “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last season, and Nichole Horio, in her Lyric debut. They arrive in a boat sailing across the sky and their sweet voices really are heaven-sent.
The production is full of surprises, such as green-faced ninja natives on a Gauguin-like set, a large paper moon, flowers blooming from rocks, pots of flames and even lasers. All the elements conspire to transport us to another world—a fanciful land of endless delights and a flute that works magic.
“The Magic Flute” runs three hours and fifteen minutes and will be performed again Dec. 10, then resumes Jan. 6 through Jan. 22, with American tenor Alek Shrader as Prince Tamino starting Jan. 9. For tickets and information, visit lyricopera.org or call 312-332-2244.
Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago