By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Viewing Note: On the Met’s home page, you now need to scroll down past the multiple ads for Pay Per View concerts and the [BUY TICKETS] boxes and go to the box that says “Nightly Opera Stream: <name of opera> and click on [WATCH NOW].
Monday, August 3
Starring Ying Huang, Erika Miklósa, Matthew Polenzani, Nathan Gunn, and René Pape, conducted by James Levine. From December 30, 2006.
This production is the groundbreaking HD broadcast that launched the Met’s world-renowned Live in HD series, now seen by millions of opera lovers in movie theaters around the world for over 14 years. Adults and children alike were enchanted by the whimsical humor and breathtaking puppetry of Julie Taymor’s 2004 hit production, presented for the HD inaugural in a much shortened English-language version. Under the baton of Maestro James Levine, a winning ensemble cast included the wonderfully athletic Nathan Gunn (as Papageno, the birdcatcher), Ying Huang (an alluring Pamina), Matthew Polenzani (as Prince Tamino), Erika Miklosa (as the Queen of the Night), Greg Fedderly (as the wicked Monostatos – the actually trim tenor was unrecognizable with his flabby, fake pot belly, bald white face and horribly hooked nose which induces giggles every time he exposed it), and wonderful bass René Pape (as the prophet, Sarastro). They all brought fresh life to Mozart’s timeless fairy tale. It is an absolute visual and aural delight for young and old alike, with some of the most impressive costume and set designs in all of the Met’s digital archive. It is worth noting that the three Ladies of the Night are Wendy Bryn Harmer, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford – all of whom are now BIG Met stars in their own right – Mozart’s Ladies of the Night, like Wagner’s Rheinmaidens, are often Met debut roles that give us a hint about the upcoming new generation of Met Divas! Shortening the score for this special version definitely involved a lot of painful decisions. The overture and several entire arias and ensembles were cut. Other arias were abridged through some very deft trims, but otherwise the Met went all out. Even if you were able to hear the entire opera in June, this one has a great cast and is beautiful, short, and sweet – although I don’t love the English – it just doesn’t sound as “right” as the German does to me!
Mozart’s final completed opera is many things all in one work — mystical fable, earthy comedy, humanist manifesto, arcane Masonic credo. But more than all that, it is an amazing testaments to the Mozart’s miraculous musical and theatrical powers. No matter how you approach or interpret the story, it whisks you away into a uniquely enchanted world, and like the flute of its title, seems to have the magical power to “transform sorrow” and “increase joy and contentment.”
I think Nathan Gunn was a perfect Papageno and deserves special mention in this production for wonderful singing WHILE engaging in incredibly athletic acting. He is dressed in bright green and encased in a terribly uncomfortable looking wooden, cage-like costume – presumably to attract and catch birds, but certainly not adding to his own comfort at all! Much of his spoken text was updated for modern times in order not to lose the comedic impact that it would have had in Mozart’s day. At one point he tries to flee danger by scurrying up the side of a huge plastic tube he is trapped in, only to slide back down, landing with the floppy-limbed aplomb of a Charlie Chaplin – and singing all at the same time.
The work is called a Singspiel (song-play) – a popular art form during the time it was written. That means it includes both singing and spoken dialogue which let Mozart and his multi-talented librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder (who actually was also the first Papageno!), put their imaginations and artistry into a less rigid format than that allowed by a classical opera of the time. The composer and the librettist were both Freemasons — a fraternal order whose membership is held together by shared moral and metaphysical ideals that are meant to be independent of religion. Masonic imagery is used throughout the work, and in fact, Freemasonry describes itself as a” ‘beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” – exactly what is presented in this opera. The libretto specified “Egypt” as the location of the action, as Egypt was traditionally regarded as the legendary birthplace of the Masonic fraternity, whose symbols and rituals permeate the opera.
The story begins as Tamino is pursued by a giant serpent and is crying, “Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!” (help me, help me) before he passes out from exhaustion and fear. He is saved just in time by the three Ladies of the Night who proceed to squabble over which one gets to stay with the handsome young prince while the others go and alert their Queen. They can’t agree, and so all decide to go. The birdcatcher, Papageno wanders onto the scene “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” (The birdcatcher am I) just as Tamino wakes up and has no trouble claiming credit for slaying the dragon. The Ladies return however and padlock his mouth for lying. They show Tamino a portrait of their Queen’s daughter, Pamina, whom they say has been imprisoned by the evil Sarastro. Of course, it is love at first sight “Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön” (This image is enchantingly beautiful). The Queen arrives and promises Tamino that Pamina will be his if he can only rescue her from the demon Sarastro “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” (Oh, tremble not, my beloved son) which he immediately promises to do.
Papageno is ‘convinced’ to accompany Tamino on his quest, and the Ladies present Tamino with a magic flute that can change sorrow (or anger) into joy. They give Papageno a set of magic bells which will allow him to call for help whenever it is needed. Tamino and Papageno set out with the help of three child-spirits, who usually ride an immense bird, to guide them. The scene then switches to Sarastro’s domain where Pamina is being dragged into a room by a lustful Monostatos (overseer of Sarastro’s servants) and his henchmen after her latest failed escape attempt. They chain her and leave her alone with Monostatos. Meanwhile, Tamino and Papageno have become separated and Papageno wanders into the room badly frightening the cowardly bully, Monostatos, but being equally frightened himself. After an amusing standoff, Monostatos escapes and Papageno tells Pamina about Tamino who is on his way to rescue her. Meanwhile, the spirits have lead Tamino to the Temple doors, where he is introduced to the light and presented with the choice between good and evil.
There are many more adventures and many more musical, dramatic and scenic highlights to come – misunderstandings, attempted suicides narrowly averted, magical creatures and incredible special effects, in addition to Mozart’s amazing music. Look for: Sarastro’s resonant bass voice invoking of the gods Isis and Osiris, asking them to protect Tamino and Pamina as they undergo the ordeals that will lead to enlightenment, “O Isis und Osiris” (O Isis and Osiris); the Queen of the Night’s second spectacular coloratura rant “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart) as she gives Pamina a dagger and orders her to kill Sarastro; Sarastro’s “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (Within these sacred halls) when he assures Pamina that there is no space for revenge or cruelty in his domain; Tamino and Pamina’s successful completion of the trials together and, of course, Papageno’s miserable failure in the trials but happy union with his Papagena (who first appears as an old hag, but finally as a beautiful young match to Papageno – “Pa–, pa–, pa–” – a delightfully amusing happy ending as The Queen of the Night and Monostatos both receive their just desserts.
Another truly innovative and satisfying production for the entire family!
1. Matthew Polenzani as Prince Tamino with Julie Taymor puppets in the Met’s shortened version of “Die Zauberflöte,” 2006. Photo credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
2. Erika Miklosa as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met, (2006). Photo credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.
3. Greg Fedderly as Monostatos and Ying Huang as Pamina in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met, 2006. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.
4. Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Jennifer Aylmer as Papagena in a Julie Taymor disguise in the Met’s production of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” 2006. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
5. Ying Huang and Pamina and René Pape and Sarastro in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Metropolitan Opera.
6. Markus Werba as Papageno and Ashley Emerson as Papagena in the Met’s production of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”. Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
7. René Pape (center) as Sarastro in Julie Taymor’s Met production of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” 2006. Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera