The Magic Flute
I applauded Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute when it was new in 2006 and liked it even more in this revival, thanks to consistently strong casting and direction that supports and even enriches this masterwork. Director Tim Albery respects the work for what it is, and he clarifies the potentially complicated subtleties of the characters’ relationships through simplifying touches.
The architectural design of the overriding set — a curved wall on the left (the domain of the Queen of the Night), a straight one on the right (the court of Sarastro) — provides a clean, attractive space while offering a hint about where rectitude lies in this opera’s universe. Costumes (which, like the sets, are the work of Tobias Hoheisel) represent a curious mix of opera-ruffle tradition (the Queen and her minions), Enlightenment-era propriety (Sarastro’s followers), girl-nextdoor innocence (Pamina), knight-in-shining-armor valor (Tamino), fascistic evil (Monostatos), and cartoon loopiness (Tamino’s not-sohelpful aide Papageno, in a T-shirt, clam-diggers, and baseball cap).
Lawrence Renes led a finely paced, authoritative performance. Two of the principal singers were familiar from the 2006 performances. Baritone Joshua Hopkins was a delight as affable Papageno, his voice full-toned, well centered, and nimble. Andrea Silvestrelli handled the role of Sarastro adeptly. His deep voice is attractive but unusual, its warm, buzzy quality evoking that of a bowed double bass. I wish he had taken his cavernous aria “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” a shade slower; I would have happily lingered longer over this humanistic credo.
The rest of the cast is new this year. Soprano Ekaterina Siurina (Pamina) and tenor Charles Castronovo (Tamino) both proved to be high-quality Mozart singers. Castronovo’s precisely etched, goldentoned phrases infused gracefulness with a heroic glint. Siurina may have cultivated a lighter than usual voice for this occasion, to charming and girlish effect. As a couple, they did indeed seem sprung from the pages of a fairy tale, and their respective high-point arias — “Dies Bildnis” for Tamino, “Ach, ich fühl’s” for Pamina — conveyed sincerity through carefully honed artistry.
Soprano Erin Morley scored a success as the Queen of the Night, singing with coloratura precision and musicality, even if her high Fs took her to the very limit of her upper range; she even interpolated a bit of adept ornamentation. Many Magic Flute productions fail to invest much sense of relationship between the Queen and Pamina. Not so this one, in which their interactions bristle with mother-daughter dynamics. Tenor Timothy Oliver hewed to the long-standing tradition of rendering the evil Monostatos’ music by barking and snarling. The Queen’s Three Ladies (Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Audrey Walstrom, and Renée Tatum) were entirely praiseworthy, as were the airy-voiced Three Spirits (Sean Jahner, Trent Llewellyn, and Craig Short, dressed like baby Buddhist monks), and baritone Dale Travis was forthright as the Speaker.
All the singing is in German, but the connecting spoken portions are delivered in English condensations prepared by Albery, the director. We also have him to thank for an unorthodox touch in the staging of the finale: Sarastro, the beacon of truth and virtue, grants forgiveness to the Queen and reconciles her to Pamina, thereby intensifying this opera’s lesson about human goodness.