Theater Review: Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Miami Arsht Center

Andrew Bidlack as Tamino in FGO's production of The Magic Flute. (Photo by Gaston de Cardenas)

I suppose it was presumptuous to assume the traffic jamming I-395 in downtown Miami approaching the Arsht Center was all headed to see opening night of the Florida Grand Opera’s production of Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute.

After all, I received an email on Friday warning me the performing arts center was expecting a busy night. But, after flying down I-95 only to then sit on the highway for another 15 minutes before finally exiting — well, that was a jam caused by more than a few thousand people headed to the opera.

I knew the Cleveland Orchestra was performing in the Arsht concert hall. Maybe the Heat were in town.  As I finally pulled into the adjacent parking lot, I was told by the attendant all of Miami was jammed up by the tens of thousands of ‘tweens being driven to see Justin Bieber at the American Airlines Center. So much for my hopeful fantasy of an opera renaissance in Miami.

Needless to say, I had arrived just minutes late and would be forced to wait for the first opportunity to be seated. The center broadcasts the action on the stage on large flat screen monitors, so I didn’t miss any of the action, but I would be forced to hang my head in shame when I was finally escorted into the theater. Unfortunately, there was no break and I—along with 50 others who were caught in the traffic—were forced to wait through the entire first act. (Surely there could have been an earlier opportunity to seat those patrons—especially those who shelled out $229 for their tickets—late or not.) Don’t be late! Thank goodness for those monitors.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a departure from the formal genre of the day written for the nobles of the court. Unlike the traditional Italian, this form, called singspiel, is sung in the vernacular German and the story is advanced with spoken dialogue, rather than strict recitatives accompanied by basso continuo.

Based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder and debuted in the writer’s Vienna theater in 1791, The Magic Flute is a fanciful tale of a young man, Tamino, and his struggles to win his true love, Pamina. Accompanied by his bumbling bird-like companion, Papageno, the journey is complicated by the plotting of the evil Sarastro and Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night.

Both Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons, and the story seems to reference by Freemasonry and the emerging Enlightenment movement.  The use of magical flutes and bells to engage fanciful creatures certainly appealed to the imaginations of the common folk who frequented the Vienna theater.

FGO’s production, originally staged by the New York City Opera and directed by Jeffrey Marc Buchman, cleverly reimagines the story, along the lines of fantasy films The Princess Bride or The Never Ending Story.

Tamino is a little boy who is being read from the storybook The Magic Flute at bedtime and as he drifts to sleep, the fantasy unfolds in his dreams. His father becomes the evil Sarastro and the toys in his ‘50s bedroom come to life in the unfolding adventure. Costume designer Thierry Bosquet and wig and makeup designer Christopher Diamantides merge the elements of Tamino’s conscious and unconscious worlds with clever boldness. While the dream scenes, set in the dark temple, and costumes of the priests are conventional, their Elvis Presley-inspired Papageno (complete with pompadour and accompanying dance moves) is brilliant.

Fifty-thousand screaming girls may have packed the AA Arena for Justin Bieber, but the real singer was at the Arsht. Andrew Bidlack (Tamino) not only has the pop singer’s boyishly good looks beat, he has a soaring tenor voice that could out-sing the “Biebs” any day.  Jonathan G. Michie’s Papageno may have provided comic relief, but his singing was serious, especially during the character’s signature aria, Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen. Jeanette Vechionne dazzled the audience with the crisp coloratura arias of the Queen of the Night, some of the most difficult in the repertoire, and drawing cheers from the audience.

All those girls may dream of Justin Bieber for months to come, but I’ll be dreaming about this wonderful production from the Florida Grand Opera.

If You Go

What: The Magic Flute By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Feb. 1,5, 10 and 18 at Arsht Center, Miami

Feb. 21 and 23 at Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale

For tickets and show times, go to FGO.org.


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