May 09--With a riot of color onstage, Washington National Opera's presentation of "The Magic Flute" could not be more visually animated if it tried. There's a good deal to entertain the ears as well.
This co-production with four other companies is, above all, a showcase for Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist Jun Kaneko. His set and costume design, a kind of pop art/classic Asian fusion, gives Mozart's opera a fresh flash of fantasy, not to mention whimsy.
If there are times when the stylized look seems arbitrary (many of the projections suggest a digital Etch A Sketch), the overall effect proves quite engaging and puts a lot of magic in this "Flute."
There is much to savor as well in the new English translation of the libretto by WNO dramaturg Kelley Rourke. She reveals a knack for rhyme and cheeky humor, and slips in contemporary references ("right to privacy," "terrorist," Twitter, arts funding, etc.) without going overboard.
Musical values are generally high, starting in the pit, where conductor Philippe Auguin guides the score with a sure, sensitive hand.
There are two casts. One features Joshua Hopkins as Papageno, and he is reason alone to catch this "Flute." The baritone seems to have it all -- a warm, supple voice; easily communicative phrasing; and such assured, effortless acting that he could clearly be at home on any stage, not just the operatic variety.
Soprano Maureen McKay also commands attention as Pamina with her radiant tone and refined sculpting of her Act 2 aria. Joseph Kaiser sings ardently, if with limited dynamic nuance, as Tamino. As Sarastro, Jordan Bisch does not have quite enough power in the low register, but the bass articulates superbly and shapes phrases with consistent elegance.
If, like many a Queen of the Night, Kathryn Lewek turns strident during coloratura frenzies, her vitality proves effective. John Easterlin's portrayal of Monostatos could use less jittery movements and more vocal weight.
David Pittsinger (Speaker), James Shaffran (First Priest) and, especially, the vibrant-toned Corey Evan Rotz (Second Priest) do commendable work. Same for the young Spirits (Will McKelvain, Jared Marshall, Arya Bailan). The chorus and orchestra (excepting some wiry violins the night I attended) also have much to offer.
Other than saggy pacing during some scene changes and dull stage business for the trials in Act 2, director Harry Silverstein keeps the action flowing along neatly.
"The Magic Flute" continues at the Kennedy Center through May 18.
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