The Canadian Opera Company opened their revival of Diane Paulus’s interpretation of Mozart’s Magic Flute tonight directed for this incarnation by Ashlie Corcoran.
Forgive me for a simplistic headline, but if I had to find one word for Paulus’s reading, “feminist” works for me. As in its first visit in February 2011, we see
- a framework story concerning the princess Pamina shifts the emphasis somewhat away from its usual misogynistic story ( that can seem like a war between the genders with a clear win for one side over the other), creating more balance
- an ending featuring a lovely dance of reconciliation entirely in the spirit of the music we hear in that final number, and giving us a framing epilogue similar to what we get from Mozart & Da Ponte in Figaro and Don Giovanni (although Da Ponte’s nowhere to be found this time)
- lines changed in the surtitles, so that we don’t have to read phrases that seem to be a direct attack on womanhood (I understand it was a collaborative effort between Gunta Dreifelds, who does the surtitles, and the rest of the team, perhaps Paulus and others as well)
- And the racist elements in the character of Monostatos are deconstructed as well
When you look at this concept, its flamboyant design, plus the integrity of the music, it’s absolutely first rate and something you shouldn’t miss.
Bernard Labadie is having a busy week. How busy?
He’s splitting his time this week between the Toronto Symphony’s Mozart @ 261 festival at Koerner Hall, and the COC.
- Tuesday (I think?): COC dress rehearsal,
- Wednesday: first Mozart concert,
- tonight (Thursday): opening night of Flute
- second concert tomorrow (Friday) at Koerner Hall.
His life gets easier (!) as he only has to focus on the rest of his run with the COC, meaning another ELEVEN performances between now and February 24th.
And while we’re speaking of being busy, the tempi of his conducting seem to match, as his pace was electric, often the fastest versions I’ve ever heard. The chorus under Sandra Horst’s leadership offered wonderfully clean attacks and diction, perfectly in time. The orchestra seemed to be aiming for a historically informed sound, the strings playing with little or no vibrato.
And there was lots of electricity in the performances.
I have to mention first & foremost a role that’s really like a cameo, namely Ambur Braid as the Queen of the Night. I wasn’t sure if I could mention her misadventure in her first aria, until she admitted it in social media. Instead of a wardrobe malfunction this was outright rebellion, her colossal dress tripping her up. But Braid is such a complete theatre animal that she turned it into business, crawling on her knees at Tamino. I swear nobody in the theatre noticed, although it did seem like an unconventional approach to the aria. In the second aria, she put the damnedest pause at the end, in full partnership with Labadie (his idea or hers?), holding us in that agonized theatrical moment before she ended the aria. It’s such a tiny part, yet she’s the one everyone remembered, including that last dance with Sarastro.
Andrew Haji was wonderful, his voice and manner a delightful exponent of the role of Tamino. His romantic partner, Elena Tsallagova has a heavier voice than what we usually hear in the role of Pamina, but she brought a passionate urgency to the role. Joshua Hopkins was an energetic Papageno with his heart on his sleeve in quest for a million laughs (and he got them), and a lovely warm baritone that was a joy throughout.
It’s a thrill to see so many Canadians onstage, the company showing its commitment to the development of talent, from director Ashlie Corcoran (who was in the Ensemble Studio herself years ago), Michael Colvin’s charmingly grotesque Monostatos and so many others I could name.
I’m looking forward to checking out the alternate cast. I suggest you go see this celebration of Canadian singing. Both genders.