The second entry in Florida Grand Opera’s 2012-2013 season is a musically accomplished and often hilariously funny production of Mozart’s great comic opera, The Magic Flute, which depicts the tests and trials of an idealistic young prince on a quest to save a beautiful princess and attain enlightenment, with the aid of a magic flute representing the edifying and transformative power of music and art. A great deal this production’s considerable charm is due to the exceedingly clever and original staging by director Jeffrey Marc Buchman, which is chock full of delightfully oddball comedic touches and clever, laugh-out-loud pop culture references. Despite the considerable liberties it takes with the libretto, this FGO production actually stays quite true to the spirit of The Magic Flute’s original singspiel sensibility, with its audience-friendly melding of moral edification and raucous, rowdy fun.
One of the cleverest liberties taken by Buchman is to stage much of the action as the dream of an adolescent boy of the fifties. Thus we come upon the hero, Tamino, in his fifties décor boy’s bedroom, receiving the “book” of The Magic Flute from his dad (later seen as Sarastro, the Lord of the Temple of Wisdom) and reading himself to sleep as Mozart’s glorious overture plays. The bedroom scene then becomes a recurring tableau, and this framework adds a certain cohesion and plausibility to the phantasmagoric plot, while adding an air of nostalgic, retro wonder to the whole proceedings.
In a subtly effective performance as Tamino, tenor Andrew Bidlack gives us a powerfully sung romantic hero while remaining perfectly in character as a feckless all-American boy. It’s a marvelous example of art concealing art. Even more impressive, and affecting, is soprano Lisette Oropesa as the harried young heroine, Pamina. Made up like a bouffant haired 60’s ingénue in the manner of Sandra Dee, Oropesa draws on the humor of the caricature while making her emotionally real. Her second act “Now my heart is filled with sadness” aria is a wonder of delicacy and feeling.
In the role of Tamino’s bird catching sidekick, Papageno, baritone Jonathan G. Michie delivers a hilariously engaging, tour de force comedic performance, wresting laugh after laugh from director Buchman’s wry asides and loony antics, while singing authoritatively throughout. Bass Jordan Bisch brings an imposing gravitas along with richly emotive singing to the dual role of Sarastro/ Tamino’s wise dad, maneuvering the part’s low F’s adroitly. As Sarastro’s malevolent rival, the Queen of the Night, soprano Jeanette Vecchione delivers an intriguingly complex characterization while handling the intricate arpeggios and trills impressively. She hit the part’s famous high F cleanly (if a tad shrilly), and drew a big hand for having done so.
Tenor Matthew Maness brings the right mix of menace and goofy humor to the part of Sarastro’s lecherous slave, Monostatos. Adam Lau lends considerable depth, along with his rich, resonant bass to the part of a sage counselor in the Temple of Wisdom. Soprano Hye Jung Lee shows an impressive talent for physical characterization as Papageno’s old hag turned babe love interest, Papagena.
This FGO production of The Magic Flute features terrific costumes, vibrant and wildly imaginative, by set and costume designer Thierry Bosquet and delightfully fanciful wigs and makeup by Christopher Diamantides. Choreographer Rosa Mercedes contributed a number of uproariously funny and engaging dance sequences.
All this and one of the most glorious scores in all opera ably conducted by Andrew Bisantz guarantees that, while you’re not likely to attain enlightenment as a result of seeing this show, you’re sure to be grandly entertained.
The Magic Flute runs through February 23. Tickets are available at (800) 741-1010 or their website.