We went to see The Magic Flute at the Ordway theatre in Saint Paul last night. It was the first really positive artistic experience I’ve had in a while, so .
It was certainly a young and innovative company taking a classic piece and making it their own. The very first thing of note was that, while the music was sung in the original German, the dialogue was English. This had the effect of making the show *much* more accessible to the casual fan. Pappageno was clownish in a very modern way, with references to the asian bird flu and to rock guitar style antics on his magic bells. They even broke the fourth wall and acknowledged the conductor in the pit at one point.
The backdrops were, at least in part, rear projected, but it wasn’t overpowering. They used the technology to great effect. I was totally inspired that a modern company was intelligent enough to use technology and modern references without totally buggering the key themes of the show.
We did not, to take real examples from other local playhouses, put the entire cast of Romeo and Juliet on scooters. Nor did we insist that the entire cast be transsexual. Instead, they modernized the opera while maintaining its dignified core. I suspect that we laughed just as hard as those original audiences in Vienna, which is really the point.
I’m certain that some of the hardcore opera-goers were torqued that it wasn’t performed exactly per the original staging as set down during the first run in Vienna. To them I say: “cope.” Art is intended for the audience. Artists who believe that their art is so pure that it must remain incomprehensible to the unwashed masses should just stay home.
The voices, as expected, were phenomenal. The “twitterbitch” arias (anything sung by the Queen of the Night) were just unreal to see live. These are the songs featured in the movie “Amadeus” which Mozart supposedly wrote for his star soprano pupil. They top out at a high ‘E’, which is kickin’ high for any soprano, but what’s really impressive is that the singer has to get there, arpeggiated, from two octaves away. I’ve heard recordings in which the soprano did it faster, but this woman was right there onstage busting out music that’s at the limit of what the human voice can accomplish. It was amazing.
Of course, the story is also a good story. It’s about love, passion, secret societies, the patriarchy, and all that good and juicy stuff. I’m certain that paper after paper in Women’s Studies classes has been written about the first 4/5 of the opera, in which women are gossipy, evil creatures and men need to not speak to them. To these people I say, watch the show to the end. It’s not all that bad, really.