Who knew that Mozart’s Magic Flute could bounce and sway with an African beat? It does, big time in the masterful production by the visiting artistry of the Isango Ensemble from Cape Town, South Africa. And I mean visiting as in short run of only several performances remaining before they pack up for the rest of their U.S. tour.
In the prelude, the front of the conductor Mandisi Dyantyis who also helped with music arrangement, is projected on a sheet dropped from the ceiling so the audience can (Finally!) see the conductor’s facial expressions as he leads an ensemble of percussive marimbas, drums, and other musical instruments. Essentially, we see what the musicians see in a captivating way to bring the audience into the production.
It’s difficult to describe the impact of hearing full operatic voices singing the familiar score, but in ways that defy all previous conceptions, cloaked in South African traditions. The tonalities sway between traditional European and African styles as much as the bodies move to the unmistakable rhythms steeped in Cape Town. The costumes by Leigh Bishop relay that reality with animal feathers and cultural designs, head dresses and African patterned cloth for the various groupings second act shows that in spades.
Knowing a bit of the story would be helpful since, though performed in English, arias aren’t the best way to relay a story-line. Still, even without an explanation or footnote, the staged movements assure clarity and understanding about the major events. Besides, what’s not to understand about lovers kept away from each other and having to go through tribulation to unite? And when the lovers Tamino and Pamina have voices of angels, just allowing yourself to be captivated by the music is satisfying enough. The direction assures complete immersion when the ensemble descends into the aisles and joins the audience watching the proceedings about the young lovers, periodically yelling out “Liberte” to free the couple from their hardships, and the celebration dances keep up lively spirits throughout.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the voices are electrifying—each one strikes a gorgeous tone and balance for pure loveliness. The performer who played Pamina opening weekend (Zolina Ngejane) is a full-bodied charmer light on her feet and delicate touch. Mhlekazi (Wha Wha) Mosiea as her lover Tamino has a sweet earnest demeanor while channeling Caruso with a voice brimming with strength and clarity. Just when I didn’t think it could get better, here comes Pauline Malefane, a founding member of the company, as the Queen of the Night, with remarkable vocal range and smoldering intensity – she is absolutely riveting. Topping them all (even literally) is Ayanda Eleki who plays Sarastro the fair and resolute tribal elder sauntering in white billowy robes, so tall it’s like he’s perched on his own personal stilts, with a bellowing bass that you can feel as well as hear, he vibrates the air that intensely.
THE MAGIC FLUTE/Impempe Yomlingo
Closes September 21, 2014
Isango Ensemble at
Shakespeare Theatre Company
450 7th Street NW
2 hours,with 1 intermission
Tickets: $20 – $80
Tuesday thru Sunday
Details and Tickets
Performing Oct 17, 18
Center Stage, Baltimore
Details and tickets
The second act begins with the tribal council seated in a circle on stool-shaped bales of hay, with each man honoring the chief before sitting. The genuflections are real and manners authentic, just as when Tamino has his face covered in grease-paint white in preparing for the horrific test of love. There is not a false note in the show rendered with care and attentiveness by all of the parties.
The set design positions the instruments on parallel sides of the highly raked stage, the back and side perimeters are covered with rippled sheet metal reminiscent of the township, and a second tier adds a lofty elevation for striking effect and visual appeal.
The program describes Mozart’s Magic Flute as a remarkable combination of fairytale and individual struggle for humanity in “what is possibly the finest human drama ever written.” Joy and sorrow, redemption, remorse, undeserved persecution, forgiveness and of course, love– all of the human elements are there wrapped in time-honored melodies and musicality. The award winning Isango Ensemble shows the true universality of the message and the music in this amazing re-imagining, on its first ever U.S. tour.
The Magic Flute—Impempe Yomlingo . Adapted and Directed by Mark Dornford-May . Produced by the Isango Ensemble . Presented by Shakespeare Theatre Company . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.
THE MAGIC FLUTE
Debbie Jackson . DCTheatreScene big time…masterful production
Mike Paarlberg . City Paper a riveting original work
Jeffrey Walker . BroadwayWorld Mozart and Marimbas.
Peter Marks . Washington Post You haven’t heard Mozart until he’s been played on marimbas.
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins . DCMetroTheaterArts The South African Isango Ensemble makes a joyful noise with soaring, full of life signature flair