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This was not your ordinary garden-variety kiddie-show. No, sir. This was a matinee at the massive Met. The vehicle, billed as The Magic Flute, was not Mozart’s quasi-comic masterpiece as normally rehashed for presumably grown-up night-time audiences. This was a holiday special, another who’s-afraid-of-opera extravaganza concocted by the new boss in the house, Peter Gelb. The running time was to be cut to 90 minutes to suit youthful attention spans.
But when the curtain fell last Friday, the reduction turned out to be timid. The most crucial omission was the intermission. Otherwise, one lost the overture, one duet, a verse here, some dialogue there. At 115 minutes, the production was a challenge for Sitzfleisch of all ages.
Julie Taymor’s fancy staging, first seen in 2004, remains a surrealistic mélange enlisting swooping geese, prancing bears, flying lobsters, balletic storks and a set by George Tsypin that traps the action in a revolving ice cube. It remains good fun, even when its puppet rituals make Noh sense. J.B. McClatchy provided a new English translation, a cutesy hodge- podge that played slow and loose with both the expressive style and musical stresses of the original. The well-behaved audience registered enthusiasm, with special cheers for the naked belly adorning big bad Monostatos (no longer “black” in the politically corrected text).
James Levine enforced graceful propulsion in the pit, and the strong cast included Matthew Polenzani (a manly, sensitive Tamino), Ying Huang (an exquisitely girlish Pamina), Nathan Gunn (charm personified as Papageno), Erika Miklòsa (a Queen of the Night unafraid of the stratosphere), Morris Robinson (a clumsily droning Sarastro), David Pittsinger (an incisive Speaker) and Greg Fedderly (bearer and barer of Monostatos’ phoney avoirdupois). Robert Lloyd, still a major basso, was inexplicably demoted to Second Guard.
The top ticket cost $175. Kiddies whose parents could pay that much were also promised “a special photo opportunity with cast members and exclusive Magic Flute-themed merchandise.” Within these holy halls . . .
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