Vancouver, BC – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s timeless singspiel opera, “The Magic Flute,” has been a canvas for countless reinterpretations since its premiere over two centuries ago. From the serious to the whimsical, this masterpiece has seen its share of adaptations, including a memorable Star Trek version at the University of Mobile. Vancouver Opera’s previous foray into the work leaned towards the serious, offering an Indigenous-themed production that reimagined the narrative as a transformation story, incorporating Musqueam language into the libretto and paying homage to Pacific Northwest Coast art through its costumes and set design.
However, this time around, a shift from earnestness to playfulness brings a refreshing perspective to the classic. The production, initially showcased at the Canadian Opera Company in 2011 and now led by the Arts Club Theatre’s Artistic Director, Ashlie Corcoran, adheres closely to the original libretto but with a delightful twist. It is set in the year of its first premiere, 1791, and is framed as a “play within a play,” presented in a nobleman’s garden.
The production’s genius lies in its ability to balance homage to the original libretto with a new, lighthearted approach. Instead of Prince Tamino being chased through the woods by a fearsome dragon, the action starts with an actor portraying Prince Tamino pursued across a small stage by a comically lumbering figure donning a three-headed dragon costume. This creative approach liberates the work and its cast from the weight of its convoluted plot, acknowledging the story’s inherent ludicrousness with a wink and an invitation to have fun.
The first act is marked by physical humor, primarily courtesy of the Three Ladies, attendants of the Queen of the Night, brilliantly portrayed by sopranos Melody Courage, Stephanie Tritchew, and Emma Parkinson. Their goth-slash-steampunk attire sets the tone for preening, flirting, and exaggeratedly squabbling over the unconscious Tamino after his fainting spell.
As Tamino, tenor Owen McCausland’s honeyed voice resonates solidly, guiding the narrative through its various trials. The “stage-on-a-stage” concept recedes as the story progresses, eventually disappearing in Act II, where the tone darkens with the protagonists caught in a forested maze. Nevertheless, the charm persists. Clarence Frazer, in the role of the playful bird-catcher Papageno, engages the audience with energy and charisma, even eliciting an audience member’s heartfelt plea on opening night. The performance acknowledges the work’s 18th-century origins, lighthearted as it may be.
One of the highlights of any “Magic Flute” production is the grand reveal of the Queen of the Night, known for her virtuosic coloratura arias that push vocalists to their limits. Soprano Audrey Luna faced a few challenges in nailing her pitches on Saturday, but her resilience shone through. She eventually conquered the famed high F6 of the “Rage Aria” while adorning a stunning ensemble consisting of a studded leather corset, spiky headpiece, and a cascade of black tulle adorned with multicolored sparkles. These visually captivating elements, designed by Myung Hee Cho for the original Canadian Opera Company production, elevate the overall experience.
However, the true standout of this rendition, amidst its breathtaking set pieces and costumes, is soprano Kirsten MacKinnon in the role of Pamina. A Vancouver native and Grand Finals Metropolitan Opera Laffont winner, MacKinnon’s rich, luscious tone and sensitive musicality earned her well-deserved rapturous applause. She is the show’s indisputable reason to attend.
In conclusion, despite the passage of 232 years since its debut, this production reaffirms that Mozart’s most beloved opera, “The Magic Flute,” retains its enchanting magic and timeless appeal. It’s a visual and auditory feast, reminding us why this masterpiece continues to cast its spell on audiences.