Review: Opera Theatre's 'The Magic Flute' Takes Mozart to Hollywood

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

“The Magic Flute,” currently playing at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, features a libretto that is widely regarded as a jumble of nonsense. Therefore, directors are expected to make some sense of it. Director Issac Mizrahi, who also designed the set and costumes, has attempted to do that by setting the opera on a colorless Hollywood soundstage, complete with a movable industrial staircase and catwalk, on which the Queen of the Night—with her Garbo-like headwrap and dark sunglasses—perches observing the action down below.

Whether Mizrahi’s unique take on the opera helps clarify the story is debatable, but what is not in question is the enthusiasm with which the audience received the performance. St. Louisans, apparently, love their opera no matter what.

Sean Panikkar as Tamino in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2014 production of The Magic Flute. Photo © Ken Howard, 2014

Sean Panikkar as Tamino in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2014 production of “The Magic Flute.”
Photo © Ken Howard, 2014

The vocal performances are outstanding, as one might expect, which makes it odd that Mizrahi would choose to have “interpretive dancing” going on while the two ingénues—Sean Panikkar as Tamino and Elizabeth Zharoff as Pamina—are singing their lovely duets. Another curiosity is the temple priests dressed as Fez-wearing Shriners. But often Mizrahi hits a home run as well. The Queen of the Night—sung with great aplomb by Clair de Sévigné—makes an entrance wearing an incredible gown with an enormous train (managed by 20 or so attendants) that, when spread out, nearly covers the entire stage. It’s a lovely effect.

Claire de Sévigné as The Queen of the Night and Elizabeth Zharoff as Pamina Photo © Ken Howard, 2014.

Claire de Sévigné as The Queen of the Night and Elizabeth Zharoff as Pamina
Photo © Ken Howard, 2014.

“The Magic Flute” is a a singspiel, meaning that it has both singing and spoken dialogue. The sing is great; the spiel not so much. Some of the acting just doesn’t hold up to the quality of the vocal performances. This is not to be said of the bird catcher Papageno played by Levi Hernandez, who both sings and acts with panache.

(L to R) Summer , Corrie Stallings, and Raquel González as the Three Ladies. Photo © Ken Howard, 2014.

(L to R) Summer , Corrie Stallings, and Raquel González as the Three Ladies.
Photo © Ken Howard, 2014.

Equally adept are the Three Ladies portrayed by Raquel González, Summer Hassan and Corrie Stallings, who are delightful in attitude and performance throughout. The remainder of the cast including extras all sang well.

Jane Glover conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra through Mozart’s impressive score.

In fairness, the audience seemed to view any shortcomings—if they noted any at all—as little nothings, rising to their feet for a standing ovation with cries of “Brava.”

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” continues at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in repertory through June 28. For tickets and information, visit the OTSL website.

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