By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh
As most fairy tales, the Canadian Opera Company’s newest production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute starts well and ends well. It’s one of the prettiest productions I’ve seen on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Alas, it’s too bad the performance on Feb. 3 felt a little short on magic in general.
Directed by Diane Paulus of the Tony-winning revival of Hair and with Myung Hee Cho’s set and costume designs, this Flute production will make an excellent first impression on just about anybody, especially children. It is predominantly held together by a lush moveable green garden. The hero and heroine are made to look like Ken and Barbie, he in a white suit with baby blue long coat and she in a baby pink dress. The evil Queen of the Night and her three ladies are dressed in black Goth-like leather outfits. The animals, which include a giraffe, three horses, an owl, a zebra and a three-headed dragon, are vividly fanciful and wonderfully imaginative. In short, it’s an enchanting set whichever way you look.
And while the cast delivered a decent performance with this backdrop, it paled in comparison in terms of magical ingredients.
Both big-name Canadians on the international scene, tenor Michael Schade and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian are superb singers with distinct voices and flawless techniques. His Tamino sang beautifully and her Pamina matched in quality. However, there was a disconnect between the pair on stage from beginning to end. They appeared to be more like brother and sister or long lost friends instead of star-crossed lovers. Papageno and Papagena in their one Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa duet had way more chemistry.
Papageno, the happy-go-lucky bird catcher, was sung by Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov, who practically stole the show with his irresistible charm and magnetic voice.
Canadian coloratura Aline Kutan as Queen of the Night looked superb and sounded great in her first aria, full of ease and conviction. This was promising sign that the second, more difficult aria in Act 2 would be a slam dunk. That wasn’t quite the case as Kutan hit her high notes on the flat side and that seemed to surprise herself more so than the audience.
The evil queen’s three ladies were sung by COC Ensemble Studio graduates Betty Waynne Allison, Lauren Segal and member Wallis Giunta. This trio was a delightful sister act throughout the opera.
Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko as Sarastro didn’t really make a strong impression in his COC debut and neither did fellow priests bass-baritone Neil Craighead and tenor Michael Barrett.
The spirits, sung by Nicola Smith, Emily Brown and Jacoba Barber Rozema, on the other hand, were pleasantly wonderful.
The Magic Flute, on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until Feb. 25, is a complete package of great music, attractive sets and star singers. Conductor Johannes Debus led the COC orchestra in a fine reading of the score. However, even that was outshined by the magic the set casts upon its stars.