The Magic Flute at Florentine Opera

By - Apr 19th, 2009 12:45 am
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Heather Buck as Queen of the Night with Kathy Pyeatt, Rebecca Olthafer, Colleen Brooks and Rodell Rosel. Photo by Richard Brodzeller.

In a cock-eyed plan to save an ailing theater company and interest a broader audience, Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in German, rather than the traditional Italian. It was an opportunity as well as a liability: would Mozart write more naturally and gracefully in his native tongue? Would audiences respond to an opera they could understand, or would the prevailing attitude of Italian’s superiority invite dismissal and critical scorn?

History voted in Mozart’s favor, and The Magic Flute became one of opera’s all-time blockbusters. In the “opera for the people” spirit (whoever “the people” are, and in spite of the prevalence of superscripting rendering opera infinitely more accessible), the creative team of the Florentine Opera has produced The Magic Flute in English. I missed the loveliness of the German, but ultimately, this production – though it’s a terrific and flawlessly performed fantasy – has other and more important distractions to hurdle.

Scenic director Noele Stollmack has dressed the set with a single, moveable piece of architecture which is, in its best moments, fluid, clean and modern, and at weaker points in the production fails to establish a setting at all, which is disorienting, and the whimsy of the story – populated with serpent creatures, bird-men, muses, bumbling prison guards, high priests and child-fairy spirit guides – is often lost in the vast, empty and unemotional whiteness of the set. Video projections – thankfully, few and far between – are mostly baffling. All that’s left to carry the story in these moments are inventive staging, colorful costumes, the beauty of the music and the aplomb of the performers.

Luckily, Magic Flute is one of Mozart’s most heart-snatchingly beautiful operatic works, and the Florentine’s company delivers a sparkling, joyful performance that is a delight from start to finish. As Pamina, the young lovelorn daughter of the Queen of the Night who’s captured by the sun priest Sarastro, Ava Pine glows. Craig Verm is hilarious as Papageno, and Heather Buck as the Queen of the Night astounds. Even the tiny, adorable Greer Davis-Brown (who stole hearts as Iris in Semele in the Florentine’s last production) gives a brief but hugely endearing turn as Papagena, bird-lady bride to goofy bird-man Papageno. And – props to the MSO – the famous glockenspiel solos are at least one of several reasons why this opera has endured for two centuries.

The Magic Flute has its flaws, some of which are written into the libretto and bear no academic exposition here, some of which are the result of a lack of grandeur in the staging. Overall, though, the Florentine’s production is a charm.

Categories: VITAL

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