Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Magic Flute

Last night I went to see the Met's new production of The Magic Flute. I bought the tickets as a birthday present for Ariana, and a little bit as a birthday present for myself. It was just about the most magnficent staging of an opera I have ever seen - thanks to Julie Taymor.

I have felt for a long time that the strength of live theater is that, compared to cinema, it's impossible to re-create a scene from life. There's no way to make a set, especially one that needs to be changed every fifteen minutes or so, lifelike in every detail. Live productions are forced into abstraction. I've seen a few plays that really take advantage of this, but The Magic Flute is the first opera to do so - where it makes the most sense of all, since opera is prone to be both stylized and larger-than-life.

I spent a few minutes hunting for pictures online, and I didn't find the scenes I was looking for. I wanted to find an image of the Queen of Night, who sings her first aria wearing starry white robes while white flags flutter behind her like wings. Ariana suggested the genius of Taymor's costuming lay in her ability to allow the singers to emote while remaining perfectly still - in this case, the queen was severely immobile and her ghost-wings fluttered and swooped behind her.

I was also looking for a picture of the three spirits and their crane. The spirits were little boys, wearing little diapery underwear and powdered white from head to toe, with a porcupine mass of spiny white hair and long white beards. They had crane familiars, including a huge, ghostly white puppet whose skeletal wings beat slowly as it floated across the stage, fluttering feathers made of thin strips of cloth.

But these are the pictures that I could find, and they are magnificent. The whole performance was magnificent. This is Papageno undergoing his trials:

And this is Papageno dreaming of a Papagena:

This is from Alex Ross's review for the New Yorker:
"“Silent applause” is an apt phrase for what happens when a listener’s inward experience locks in synch with the experience of several thousand others. It’s the sense of a performance “rising and rising,” as Mozart said; of a jaded, lonely crowd made to grin like kids; of a world gone right. I hung on to the feeling as long as I could...

To the usual Masonic symbology she [Taymor] adds motifs from the Kabbalah, Tantric Buddhism, Bunraku, Indonesian puppet theatre, and so on. The Met stage has never been so alive with movement, so charged with color, so brilliant to the eye. The outward effect is of a shimmering cultural kaleidoscope, with all manner of mystical and folk traditions blending together. Behind the surface lies a melancholy sense that history has never permitted such a synthesis—that Mozart’s theme of love and power united is nothing more than a fever dream. But Taymor allows the Enlightenment fantasy to play out to the end...

That these sets could serve as the backdrop for some very scary Vegas magic show—David Copperfield raising the dead, perhaps—is part of the whimsical appeal of the production, which stops well short of taking itself too seriously...

Mark Dendy obtains some of the sharpest dancing I’ve seen on the Met stage; when Papageno immobilizes Monostatos’s would-be tough guys with his magic bells, they become screamingly gay Broadway hoofers...."
That pretty much sums it up. It was a real treat.

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