For the first time ever, I arrived at the Met in the morning for a special performance of the Magic Flute starting at 11am. For the rest of the day, I was under the spell of the clarity of the music (conducted by Erik Nielsen) and of the airy, fluttery, fairy world created by Julie Taymor’s magic touch; she produced and directed the piece and also created the costumes and puppetry.
In this timeless esthetic, the costumes become geometric objects, the time frame borrows from the Bauhaus, enlightenment architecture as well as transparent, ultramodern design. The sets by George Tsypin offer a circular point of entry into the beyond, through infinite mandalas and petroglyphic symbols of ancient rituals.
The air element is strongly present as the “puppets” – which are more related to Indonesian theater than to the Muppets - are unsubtantiated apparitions that flutter in the wind like flags, made of light fabrics that ebb and flow, with the transparent consistency of a butterfly’s dream.
The Queen of the Night, performed by Erika Miklósa, was unreal: how could she produce those smooth high notes at such an early time of day? She was framed by a double set of wing-like constructions; they were trembling along with her trills, which created an effect that was both magical and comical. It is only later in the performance that I caught a glance of the three performers who were operating the character’s living and breathing costume. Nathan Gunn as Papageno projected a refreshing casualness in the role. The surprise was the three spirits performed by boys in strange primitive punk but all white, and as they appeared up in the air on swings (photo from program).
This was is an abbreviated version of the Magic Flute, performed without intermission, in English, which for the most part works pretty well, but in some instances, I have to admit I missed the original German phrasing. But the staging made it all happen, and even though I have seen many Magic Flutes, I would recommend this one as true to the spirit of the piece.
I have read books on Mozart’s Masonic connection and theories purporting that he had betrayed the secrets of the Masons in The Magic Flute, and was subsequently assassinated by them. But as far as I can see, the opera does not actually reveal any secrets. There is an “initiation” scene, but initiation rites have existed as long as humanity, and represent another timeless element of reference, which is not specific to the Masons. According to other research, it seems more likely that Mozart was not assassinated, but died of an unmentionable illness that was both common and incurable at the time.
In the score, through the fairy tale, fear and longing are an undertow of the music in certain sections, as if Mozart intuitively knew that it was his last stage work. This “otherwordly” and timeless resonance of human fate was clearly understood and interpreted in this production.