JWR Articles: Live Event - The Magic Flute (Director/Choreographer: Mark Godden) - November 9, 2003

The Magic Flute

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Ears wide shut

In changing subjects from The Prince of Darkness (cross-reference below) to the Queen of the Night, choreographer Mark Godden has shown once again that his creativity knows no bounds and his stellar troupe of dancers have responded in kind, bringing zest and energy to their depiction of Mozart’s miraculous score. Unfortunately, the musical intent has been lost, producing a show that is enjoyable and fun, but miles away from the aural subtext that lurks intriguingly on every page.

The opening scene sees Tamino (Johnny Wright: athletic, debonair, yet strangely detached from his prize) threatened by the siren of TV rather than a fire-breathing serpent only to be pyrotechnically rescued by the Queen of the Late Night’s (Tara Birtwhistle) Glamazons instead of the original’s Three Ladies who dispatch their creature with javelins, three-part harmony and counterpoint.

Next up is Papageno—birdman extraordinaire who trades his quarry for sustenance from the Queen’s servants. Yosuke Mino lit up the stage with every entrance, displaying excellent technique (particularly his first-act batterie where he seemed to take flight) and is a capable actor to boot. Here again, Godden took great licence emphasizing the lechery (not just padlocking his mouth as punishment for fibbing, but adding an easy-laugh chastity belt for good measure) rather than the loneliness and anguish that Mozart found.

And no Pan pipes for this bird; even the glockenspiel was abandoned in favour of a glittering music box. These changes make for a much easier dance solution, but robbed the story of a key component: the power and universality of music over mere words—even the animals can understand. Taken a vow of silence? No problem, pass the flute and I’ll play my feelings away. Lost your true love and ready to end it all in despair? Hold on sad man, tap out a few sterling arpeggios and voilà, she magically appears.

Musicologists have made much of Mozart’s Masonic connections, with the numerous instances of the number three (but that can become ridiculous: the Overture is in E-flat major—three flats—is that a secret meaning, or did Mozart just happen to hear the music in that tonality?). The temples of Reason, Nature and Wisdom are more clearly connected, and their subjectivity gives directors of either opera or ballet considerable leeway in their representations.

Despite being decked out in a coat that says “Neo” to film buffs, or Yul Brenner in The King and I to musical aficionados, Alexander Gamayunov as head sorcerer Sarastro delivered a credible portrayal of the wise ruler (who actually carved the magic flute in the original), but was directed by Godden to reduce the modern instrument used here to an ineffective prop except when coming between Tamino’s legs for tricks of a different sort. His “helpers” are meant to be mystical cherubs (The Three Boys). Renaming them “Navigators” is fine, but seeing individually competent (though lacking unanimity in ensemble) and obviously female dancers while savouring the unique tonal quality of the recording’s pre-pubescent boys ruined the effect of both.

The entire production often took on a homage to Stanley Kubrick air—particularly the masking of faces by hands, the wonderfully white coats, the piles of snowy white dust and the several moments where the possibility of on-stage intercourse was merely a roll away.

Pierre Lavoie’s lighting design was as practical as it was effective, beautifully complemented by Paul Daigle’s sparse set, where the semi-opaque glass wall was perhaps an unintended metaphor for the underlying themes. Nonetheless, Cindy Marie Small’s Pamina erected the blocks with gusto, giving us masonry on yet another plane.

Visually pleasing and musically frustrating (oh for $1 million benefactors that would ensure a truly “live” performance, er, hello there Richardsons …), in the final analysis it’s a production that proves Mozart’s genius has not withered with the passage of time or improvements of technology. JWR

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