Last night saw the first performance of this season’s run of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the COC. It’s a revival of the Diane Paulus 2011 production with Ashlie Corcoran as revival director. It has a “theatre within a theatre” overlay in Act 1; it’s supposed to be an aristocratic birthday party for Pamina where the guests perform the opera, which mysteriously disappears in Act 2 though it makes an odd reprise right at the end where all the characters appear to perform a country dance. Strip that element out and it’s a workmanlike Flute with nothing much to say but some pretty visuals. The animals are cute and the trials scene is rather well done. There is one notable change from 2011. Pamina’s lurid pink Disney princess outfit is gone, replaced by something Regencyish and far less jarring.
So basically it’s all about the performances and here we were well served by a (mostly) youngish cast with a strong Canadian element. The star of the show for my money was Elena Tsallagova as Pamina. She combines a sweet voice with plenty of projection and very affecting acting. She nailed the big numbers and combined beautifully with Andrew Haji’s Tamino and Joshua Hopkins’ Papageno. Haji too was excellent. He really does have the ability to shade his voice and vocal technique for the piece he’s singing in so last night he, I think, throttled back a bit and concentrated on sounding beautiful and stylish rather than heroically Italianate. (Some of this may have been where I was sitting where everything sounded a wee bit “throttled back”). Hopkins’ Papageno was well sung. Perhaps not the most exuberant Papageno ever but quite funny and convincing.
Ambur Braid showed us why she is so much in demand as Queen of the Night. The two big arias were spot on with some real menace in Der Hölle Rache and pinpoint coloratura. It was also great to have a genuine bass with real low notes in Goran Juric as Sarastro. The supporting roles were heavy on past and present Ensemble Studio members with Michael Colvin (Monastatos), Jackie Woodley (Papagena), Aviva Fortunata, Emily D’Angelo and Lauren Segal (Girls biker gang aka Three Ladies) plus Owen McCausland, Neil Craighead, Charles Sy and Bruno Roy all getting in on the action.
Bruno Labadie conducted and brought a brisk, HIP sensibility to the piece. He didn’t let his singers wallow and things kept moving without being too frenetic. He was probably also responsible for pushing the singing style somewhat towards a lowish vibrato baroque kind of sound. The COC chorus and orchestra were, as usual, top notch. All in all then, a serviceable and well sung Magic Flute but hardly revelatory.
There are eleven more performances between next Friday, when the alternate cast will sing, and February 24th. I’ll be back to see that cast with Owen McCausland, Kirsten MacKinnon, Phillip Addis and Matt Boehler coming in as Tamino, Pamina, Papageno and Sarastro respectively. The Magic Flute is playing at the Four Seasons centre and tickets are available from the box office and at coc.ca.
Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson, Gary Beechey and Michael Cooper x2.