Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” offers its own challenges. Along with some of the most beautiful music ever composed, there are also quite a few spoken dialogues that detract from the musical flow. The combination of philosophical ideas, fantasy and light spirit, make it one of the most popular operas in the world, and yet one can easily miss the right balance between them.
The production, directed by the Australian Barrie Kosky, which arrived at the Tel Aviv Opera following a triumphant worldwide tour, is very pleasing. An animated film is projected replacing an elaborate set. The singers move at the bottom of the screen or pop out of it, standing on shelves at different heights, which appear and disappear throughout the performance. This way they sing facing the audience rather than each other without diminishing the dramatic impact embedded in the score.
The animation, created by the Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, combines inspiration from various sources, the most notable of which is the silent Hollywood and German cinema of the 1920s. This allows Kosky to replace the dialogues with intertitles on the screen, and these are accompanied by a piano playing Mozart’s fantasies. It fits in beautifully.
Not all the animated clips are equally spot on, but they change frequently. I especially loved the design of the Queen of the Night as a mighty spider, the three boys (played here by girls) turning into flying butterflies, and the carpet of flowers that envelops Pamina and Papageno. This flow of images intensifies the incongruity of the plot. Those who do not know it may not understand what is happening. But it’s a worthy price to pay for the visual celebration.
But for opera veterans what matters most is the music, and the current production is gratifying in that respect as well. On the opening night the undisputed star was Pamina as played by the Israeli Alla Vasilevitsky. She has a beautiful and rich voice, and she mastered every note. I also enjoyed the singing of the American Aaron Blake, who demonstrated a masculine and agreeable tenor as Tamino. Israeli baritone Oded Reich sang Papagano’s favorite hits beautifully, but this role is meant to be show-stealing, and Reich’s stage performance of the Dionysian character was not graceful enough to achieve that.
In the supporting roles, Eleanor Sohn, Tal Bergman and Hadar Sharvit were great together as the three ladies. It is a pity that the Austrian Beate Ritter played the queen of the night with a flat and colorless voice. She actually performed well the virtuoso vocal runs at the height of her famous aria, but other than that her rendition was inadequate, as was Ukrainian Taras Berezhansky singing as Sarastro. The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion conducted by David Nimrod Pfeffer (who also played the piano) sounded good except for a few errors by individual instruments, and I especially want to praise Adi Menczel’s beautiful playing of the flute parts.
Kosky’s production, which was first seen in 2012 at the Berlin Komische Oper, has since garnered some 700,000 viewers worldwide. On my way home after the opera I came across people who had just had their first operatic experience. They were exhilarated. I believe there will be many more like them.
- Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Director: Barrie Kosky
- Concept: Suzanne Adraede, Paul Barrit
- Conductor: David Nimrod Pfeffer
- Sung in German with Hebrew and English surtitles
- Cast includes Alla Vasilevitsky, Aaron Blake, Oded Reich, Beate Ritter
- The Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv
- Set and costume designer: Esther Bialas,
- Duration: Aprox 2 hours and 45 minutes