Your mission: Venture to the land of Adams Morgan until you see a temple at 16th and Fuller. From Fuller turn right at Mozart Place, past the construction, into the auto-gated parking lot. Then look for the signs. Not enigmatic Dan Brown-ish signs, but actual printer paper taped here and there, with arrows, saying “Magic Flute This Way.” Find the side path to the utilitarian looking doorway that leads to the lobby of the inner sanctum. And there, my friends, you will find the light. Unless the Queen of the Night nabs it first.
There could be no more fitting exercise to get you in the mood for a no-frills but charming production of this quest story in comic form but with mystic undertones being held in the DC Scottish Rite Temple. Mozart was a Mason and, the scholarly consensus has it, he imbued the tale with Masonic appeals to reason, logic, and enlightenment. Nick Olcott has adapted Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto liberally, translating, colloquializing, and modernizing it and playing up themes of female empowerment and the yin-yang oneness of the combined male and female.
The DC Scottish Rite Temple’s theater, with its fine acoustics (no mics needed) and handsome trappings, is a clever venue.
Director Rick Davis pokes fun at the production’s generally modest resources, even as he and producing artistic director Carla Hubner invest in the elements that matter most: an exceptional cast and chamber orchestra led by music director Stanley Thurston; grand gowns, dresses, capes, and headpieces by costumer Donna Breslin; and lushly painted sets of forest and temple by Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Davis paces the complicated plot unfussily, and sets up his winking approach to minimal props and effects with a wacky frame story about a Works Progress Administration cast, during the Depression, that’s ready to put on Verdi’s Il Trovatore but has to switch to The Magic Flute at the last minute.
The opera offers plentiful chances for virtuosity, particularly for its sopranos. Coloratura Kelly Curtin may horde the light as Queen of the Night, but she channels it into aural brilliance in her severe laser-sharp commands and reprimands in the demanding upper range. Soprano Emily Casey is Pamina, the queen’s princess daughter, who tries to negotiate a truce between her mother and Sarastro, who wants to share the light with the world. Casey’s musical lyricism meshes with her persuasive heartbreak at seeming rejection by the knight Tamino. Her desperation is a crucial counterweight to the often farcical proceedings around her.
The Magic Flute
closes October 1, 2017
Details and tickets
Tenor Joe Haughton, in addition to many opera-house appearances, may be familiar to patrons of Trattoria Sorrento as part of their monthly opera-night duo that has caused many guests to shed tears into their branzino. He has a boisterous voice tethered to an approachable regular-guy demeanor, and good comic timing too. Those qualities are shared by and paired with bass Daren Jackson as Tamino’s sidekick, Papageno. Jackson’s duets with Casey are also quite winning. “Without love and sympathy, life is not worth living,” they sing.
The ensemble is strong. The Queen’s Three Ladies and her Three Spirits, particularly, combine precise harmony with a sibling-like mischievous camaraderie.
Schikaneder might have raised an eyebrow at some of Olcott’s adapted libretto. “He’s quite a looker—not half bad,” the Three Ladies sing upon first spotting Tamino, “a downright hunk, this Galahad.” And Tamino says of the villain he’s sent to vanquish, “Defeat awaits you, evil scum.” My qualms are not with the informality of the speech but with the occasional inconsistency of the tone. For sometimes it’s quite scholastic: Sarastro bemoans “ignorance, man’s eternal blight.” From “downright hunk” to “eternal blight” is a disorienting jump in register. Overall, though, the script is involving and inviting.
In The Magic Flute, liars are chastened and the truth celebrated. So here’s the truth: Even if a lot of opera is too stuffy or portentous for you, you’ll likely enjoy this highly professional but irreverently accessible production.
The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Original libretto, Emanuel Schikaneder. English dialogue and lyrics, Nick Olcott. Director, Rick Davis. Music director and conductor, Stanley Thurston. Associate music director, Joseph Walsh. Set Design, Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Lighting design, Marianne Meadows. Costume design, Donna Breslin. Stage manager, Evelyn Rossow. Featuring Emily Casey, Kelly Curtin, Joe Haughton, Daren Jackson, Suzanne Lane, Christian Rohde, Jim Williams, Arya Balian, Kenneth Derby, Katherine Fili, Cara Gonzalez, Rebecca Henry, Jonathan Hoffman, Elizabeth Mondragon, Garrett Matthews, Lauren Randolph. Produced by In Series . Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.