The Magic Flute – Lovely Music, Bad Plot

The Magic Flute runs from January 29th to February 25th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at 145 Queen St. W.

The Canadian Opera Company began the new year with a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (You can read the COC’s synopsis of the story here.). By now, I’ve already had experience with Mozart’s operas, having watched the COC’s production of Idomeneo last season. I expected an evening of beautiful music, and I was not disappointed. The cast in general was quite decent, though not spectacular, although I will give a special mention to Aline Kutan, who played a very regal and vocally powerful Queen of the Night. Her arias were perhaps the highlight of the evening. Rodion Pogossov definitely deserves a special mention as well since his hilarious acting skills and playful voice were perfect for the silly character of Papageno.

The set for Act I was extremely interesting since it gave the impression of having a play within a play with some of the characters in the opera standing by as an audience, which was an absolutely fascinating concept. The sets for Act II were really well thought out because the set changes that happened during the scenes were absolutely creative. Kudos to set designer, Myung Hee Cho, who also did the costumes.

The costumes, on the other hand were interesting in that they definitely gave the audience an idea of the character’s personality, although the dominatrix, leather, Xena-goth costumes for the Queen of the Night and Ladies serving under the Queen were an eccentric choice. I found them quite a lot of fun, although I’m not so sure about the parents and teachers who were with their kids and students during the student dress rehearsal I attended. The best costumes, however, were the animal costumes. I think they were made with a paper-like material and the silhouettes and movements created by the animal heads attached to human bodies gave a wonderful effect. Prop-wise, the horse bicycles the three child spirits were very cool. I want one!

The only problem I have with the production was mostly Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder’s (the librettist) fault.  The plot of The Magic Flute is driven by misogyny with a generous dash of imperialist rhetoric. Women are always inexplicably evil (with the exception of Pamina who needs an authoritative male figure to guide her), they spread falsehoods and rumours and are inevitably “superstitious.” Being “effeminate” or “not a man” is seen a negative personality trait and a woman will always try to lead you astray somehow. There were quite a few very young children at the student dress rehearsal (which was surprising because mostly high school and university students go to these performances), which was a bit disconcerting. So for children… Sex in opera? No. Violence and death? No. Misogyny? Sure! Bring the kids! Personally, I’d rather have them see Carmen, sexy flirty flamenco, murder and all. At least Carmen, to her very end, refused to be owned by Don Jose. In any case, the music and humour somewhat softens the misogyny a little, but if sexism is something you can’t stand, this isn’t the production for you. As well, even though there is a lot of humour and elements of fantasy, I would only suggest that you bring the kids ONLY if you talk to them about the misogyny in the opera afterwards. In any case, if you can accept that this opera was written in a time when women were not seen in a kind light and enjoy the music and the humour, then I encourage you to go.

The Magic Flute runs from January 29th to February 25th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at 145 Queen St. W.

Here is a calendar for all the performances of the COC’s productions. You can either buy rush tickets, which can be purchased the day of the performance from 11AM onwards, for $20 (for seats in the 5th ring) or half the regular price (for all other seats). You can also take advantage of the Opera for a New Age tickets, which are ticket for people under 30 (you must show a valid I.D.) and they cost $22 for seats in sections 3D, 4C and 5B. For more information on Opera for a New Age tickets, please click here.

I will be reviewing the COC’s next production, Nixon in China, next week.

Picture from the Canadian Opera Company website.

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