Sunday, August 20, 2023


Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino and Erin Morley as Pamina
in Simon McBurney's production of The Magic Flute


The Magic Flute. Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Librettist  Emanuel Schikaneder.

Director Simon McBurney. Conductor  Nathalie Stutzmann with the Metropolitan Opera of New York Orchestra. Sharmill Films. Met Live. Dendy Cinema Saturday August 19 2023, Sunday August 20 and Wednesday August 23. Bookings:

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


The Metropolitan Opera New York’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), directed by Simon McBurney and conducted by Nathalie Stutzmann is as fresh and exciting as I imagined it was when first performed at the Theater An Der Wien in September 1791. Distributed by Sharmill Films the Met Opera’s production is positively captivating from the moment conductor Nathalie  Stutzmann raises her baton with a driving force that promises  pure excitement. Director McBurney’s staging is faithful to Mozart’s original intention. The Magic Flute is a Singspiel combining opera with spoken dialogue. It is Mozart’s first opera composed to  Emanuel Schickaneder’s  German libretto. It is an opera especially composed for the German speaking people and McBurney pays allegiance to Mozart’s original intent while staging a work that has immense contemporary appeal. The orchestra pit is raised so that the musicians are always in view of the audience. Instead of using recorded sound effects, McBurney employs Foley artist Ruth Sullivan to make the sound effects on stage such as the sound of birds by shaking garden gloves. Visual and Video artist Blake Habermann draws the German titles and numbers in chalk upon a slate that is then projected onto the stage and erased after.  The effect is to transport the audience back to the original production. The magic flute that will protect Tamino, played by tenor Lawrence Brownlee, in his quest for the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina  is played by the flautist (Seth Morris) in the pit and on stage. Tamino’s companion Papageno, a buffoonish birdcatcher, is given silver bells to protect him and a Glockenspiel is played by assistant conductor Bryan Wagorn on stage as part of the production. McBurney infuses the production with bewitching clarity. Shickaneder’s fairy tale of good versus evil, the virtue of beauty and wisdom and the power of love  is the most accessible that I have ever experienced in a number of productions of The Magic Flute that I have seen. I am captivated by the simplicity, amazed at the complexity of instrumentation, played to perfection by the orchestra under Stutzmann’s inspired conducting.

Thomas Olieman as Papageno in The Magic Flute

McBurney’s production of Mozart’s popular work is darker than I imagined. Mozart’s composition is startlingly diverse, with popular tunes catching the lighter aspect of the work, most prevalent in Papageno and Papageno’s love duet, but there is an ominous strain to coloratura soprano Kathryn Leweck’s brilliantly sung Queen of the Night, grieving the loss of her daughter and confined to a wheelchair. There is the malevolent desire of tenor Brenton Ryan’s Monostatos. Even the imposing presence of bass Stephen Milling as Head of the Temple, Sarastro, suggests an authoritative power and oppressive patriarchy. In Act Two, Tamino’s initiation by Sarastro’s initiates into the Temple of Wisdom in the Kingdom of the Sun suggests the secrecy and influence of the hidden order in a possible homage to Mozart’s respect for Freemasonry. Rather paradoxically the three boy sopranos, appearing as ghoulish old men offer salvation to Pamina (played with delicious innocence by Erin Morley) and hope to baritone Thomas Olieman’s Papageno in his quest for a Papagena, delightfully played by soprano Rowan Pierce.  The balance is achieved by Pamina’s innocence and Papageno’s comical clowning. McBurney is a widely respected actor and this is apparent in his ability to encourage excellent acting from his singers as well as carrying the action of the opera from the stage to the pit and Papageno’s clambering into the audience.

Everything about the Met Opera’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte reflects the power of simple storytelling. This is a fairy tale that could enchant children and grown-ups alike. It has adventure, danger, comedy and lessons to be learned. Sarastro’s Temple of Wisdom offers a solution to the world’s malady. Mozart’s music is magic to the ear of his people in times of turmoil. Schikaneder’s libretto observes the convention of fairy tales and fables. All this is brought to magnificent light by McBurney’s vision, Stutzmann’s conducting of her world-class orchestra and the sublime voices of the cast.  The production is an enduring tribute to a composer who understood the power of music and the message. The Magic Flute is an innovation of its time and an opera for all time.