In a classic opera depicting the battle between intellectual enlightenment and romanticism with allusions to ancient Masonic rituals, you don't expect a character to exclaim, "Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"
But this is director Jeffrey Marc Buchman's whimsical take on Mozart's "The Magic Flute," one of the most-popular operas of all time, in part, because its inherent irreverence begs to be enhanced with goofball humor and imaginative re-interpretations — both of which mark the Florida Grand Opera's edition. If Buchman doesn't quite coalesce the warring tones of low comedy, heartfelt boy-meets-girl romance and highbrow pursuit of virtues extolled in ponderous verbiage, FGO's "Magic Flute" remains an entertaining evening.
Conductor Andrew Bisantz assuredly leads the orchestra and cast through a faithful and satisfying rendition of Mozart's score, with some strong if not stunning performances. The most-obvious highlight was coloratura soprano Jeanette Vecchione's local debut as the haughty Queen of the Night. Her first-act aria lacked some of the fire you long for, but she dexterously negotiated the legendarily difficult second-act coloratura aria.
But it's Buchman's vision that stands out. Before he transports us into this "Alice in Wonderland" fairy tale, he frames the opera as a "Wizard of Oz"-brand dream in which a 21st century teenager goes to sleep with a copy of the story during the overture and awakes to face a threatening dragon much larger than the stuffed one his brother taunted him with a few moments earlier.
From there, our hero Tamino falls in love with the portrait of Pamina, the daughter of the secretly evil queen, and sets off to rescue her from the secretly benevolent King Sarastro, who has kidnapped Pamina for her own good. Tamino must win Pamina's hand by undergoing tests, not of strength but of virtue. Right. The strength of "The Magic Flute" is the scamp of a bird catcher Papageno, who never misses a chance to cut up in the tradition of heroes' sidekicks going back to Aristophanes.
The opera, which was written in German rather than Italian and included spoken dialogue rather than recitative, was meant to be accessible to the everyday theatergoer. Buchman is on board with that. He has inserted or rewritten lines in English vernacular and delivered in German that show up in the supertitles as, "I'm out of here!" or "Fighting's not really my thing."
As Papageno is being escorted by a character billed as Second Priest, Papageno asks him chummily, "Second Priest, can I call you Second?" When Pamina describes her mother as sweet, Papageno asks her, "What opera are you in?" When a gagged Pamina asks him to untie her, Papageno looks up at the supertitle for a translation.
Most of the applause at the curtain went to soprano Lisette Oropesa, making her FGO debut as the dewy Pamina, recognizing her passionate declamations of love and heartbreak. Andrew Bidlack's muscular tenor provides a solid presence for Tamino, investing plausibility in his otherwise credibility-stretching declaration of love to Pamina's portrait.
But the real star is Jonathan G. Michie as Papageno, whom Mozart, librettist Emanuel Schikaneder and Buchman gave a license to steal every scene he's in. Dressed like a punk rocker in an electric-teal leather jacket and bewigged in a cross between Steven Tyler's mop and Elvis Presley's pompadour, Michie revels in the sophomoric humor, such as delivering the Mrs. Robinson line to the advances of Papageno in disguise as an elderly woman. He's so funny it's easy to overlook that his full-bodied baritone is perfectly able to deliver the demands of the music.
Not every musical moment landed. Jordan Bisch has a smooth bass as Sarastro, but the orchestra drowned out some of his lowest notes. At least one or more of the three boys portraying the guiding spirits was flat on opening night.
The production values include lavish, fanciful costumes and fluid if simple sets, both rented from the New York City Opera. The queen's headdress has enough sparkling surfaces that the audience's eyes are dazzled as if she were a walking glitter ball. For counterpoint, Pamina wears a 1950s party dress. Tamino spends much of the evening in pajamas and then dons blue jeans and gym sneakers.
For a two-and-a-quarter-century-old classic, FGO turns "The Magic Flute" into a hoot.
The Magic Flute
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Tuesday and Feb. 16, and 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Arsht Center; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 8 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Broward Center
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 800-741-1010 or FGO.orgCopyright © 2015, South Florida