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June 11, 2014

Review: 'The Magic Flute' looks better than it sounds

Fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi has bedazzled Mozart's "The Magic Flute" into a grand Golden Age spectacle that fascinates as an imaginative theatrical piece of entertainment, but as traditional opera, not so much.

Because of the stunning production values -- Mizrahi designed the set and the costumes -- the sight aspect of this Opera Theatre of St. Louis premiere is superior to the actual overall sound.

Several of the main characters were selected for their look, not necessarily their voice. Primarily, the acting wasn't up to par in a few instances.

If you favor bold creative works with pizzazz and panache, you won't be disappointed by its enhanced visual experience.

Nevertheless, Mozart's motive was to create an opera enjoyed by the common folk, and his vibrant music remains a joyous achievement. You can get swept away by its pure beauty, without all the other razzle dazzle.

In his take on Mozart's 18th century masterpiece, director Mizrahi has transferred it to a 1950s Hollywood sound stage, with homages to "Sunset Boulevard" and "An American in Paris."

He concentrated on interpretive jazz-ballet dance being a key component. I didn't mind, but others found it distracting. John Heginbotham's choreography was expressive and well-executed.

The 1791 fairy tale is a lot of nonsense wrapped in finery. The German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder is a Singspiel, which is both singing and spoken dialogue.

In a mythical land, the evil Sarastro has forced Pamino to stay at his temple, keeping her away from her mother, the Queen of the Night. Mom asks a prince, Tamino, to rescue her daughter, and of course the pretty young couple fall in love. The colorful and comical birdcatcher Papageno is enlisted to help too. A magic flute, three spirits, and bells figure in to the fantastical story.

The Queen of the Night, hauntingly beautiful and haughty, was mesmerizing in a purple satin outfit with a flowing train that received its own ovation. Claire de Sevigne looked like a cross between Norma Desmond and Greta Garbo, and carried herself with the aura of a major screen star.

Tenor Sean Panikkar played the prince with little conviction, and soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, while looking like a blond princess of the day, was bland. Passion wasn't conveyed in their interaction.

Matthew Anchel was too young to play the high priest of the sun, Sarastro, but did display a decent bass.

Supporting players were more impressive, especially three spirits -- Emily Tweedy, Gillian Lynn Cotter and Fleur Barron, who mirrored the grown-ups playing babies in "The Band Wagon" -- Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanon. It was a cute comical crowd-pleaser.

The three attendants to the Queen of the Night -- Raquel Gonzalez, Summer Hassan and Corrie Stallings -- were in strong voice and pleasant appearance.

Striking in their grace and agility were two attendants, wearing gold body suits and makeup, who were not singled out in the program.

Baritone Levi Hernandez was a sturdy, competent Papageno, who does most of the show's heavy lifting.

The lighting design by Michael Chybowski is exquisite and award-worthy, perfectly setting the mood and heightening the drama.

The mystery and glamour conveyed kept my attention, and resulted in some breathtaking "Wow" moments.


"The Magic Flute"

Who: Opera Theatre of St. Louis

When: June 11, 15, 21, 24, 28

Where: Loretto-Hilton Center at Webster University, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis

Tickets: 314-961-0644

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