Orchestration, costumes and the Queen light up 'Magic Flute'

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” remains arguably one of the most popular opera productions performed at theaters around the world. And as Mozart intended when the production debuted Sept. 30, 1791 at the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, so too did the powers at the Seattle Opera in its desire to reach a wide audience and inculcate children to opera.

So ubiquitous is this music, it has become the stuff of ringtones and the source from which contemporary TV shows, films, pop music and costuming have found their inspiration.

Needless to say, the audience had expectations coming into Saturday’s opening-night performance at McCaw Hall. And in many ways those expectations were met and even surpassed.

There were three elements to Seattle’s take on “The Magic Flute” that found themselves shining like silver dollars. The first was the astounding creativity in the costuming. This production marks British couture designer Zandra Rhodes first foray with Seattle Opera and one can only hope she returns for future engagements. Her colorful array of costumes was nothing short of fantastic. The bird catcher Papageno, played by Philip Cutlip, appeared a fat little Macaw festooned with feathers blue, green and yellow. His fanciful dress matched his buoyant countenance. The wildlife Tamino (John Tessier) beguiles with his magical flute brought a dreamlike quality to the presentation. Yellow and pink monkeys tumbled, a glittering, silvery-brown rhinoceros lumbered, a neon pink ostrich high-stepped and a forest green crocodile slithered – each under the spell of the flute. The robes of the Masonic priests were dyed in gorgeous saffron tones that lent to their connection to the sun -- which they worshipped. The two armored men shone like disco balls and the Queen of the Night (Emily Hindrechs in her Seattle Opera debut) was a walking Starry Night studded with silver gems and a crescent moon fixed to her piled black mane.

Stage Director Chris Alexander could have insisted Rhodes make more traditional and perhaps drab choices. But not so. This production, from costumes to the modern neon/dayglo set that focused heavily on Egyptian themes (albeit sometimes to the point of distraction), was pure color.

Another notable highlight was the flawless performance by Hindrichs as the Queen of the Night. Her complicated and instantly recognizable arias were amazing. She met every note with a flourish. The only problem was that she wasn’t on stage enough.

And finally, and perhaps most of all, was the seamless orchestration by a gracious Gary Thor Wedow, who at the curtain call received thunderous applause. He took Mozart’s most sublime music and let it swirl and float throughout the hall, particularly the overture and the Marsch der Priester that opens Act 2. It’s this kind of otherworldly melody that can reduce the most jaded and intellectual music critic to a bemused child.

The Magic Flute plays through May 21 at McCaw Hall. For tickets visit www.seattleopera.org

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