The Canadian Opera Company billed this spring’s revival of The Magic Flute as a “whimsical comedy” and that’s pretty much what we get. Anna Theodosakis’ revival of Diane Paulus’ original production is more broadly comic than the original and downplays the few (not very effective) attempts at gravitas in its earlier iterations. It works on its own terms but it is not a Magic Flute for those looking for something with intellectual depth. I’m still not convinced by the “play within a play” schtick of the first act, which sets up the stage action as a performance at Pamina’s birthday party hosted by her father, Sarastro. This set-up is lost in the second act, which does contain some striking visuals notably in the trials scene where there is effective use of dancers and extras as fire and water.

Midori Marsh (Papagena) and Gordon Bintner (Papageno)
© Michael Cooper

The comedy was largely sustained by Gordon Bintner as Papageno. His body language was really quite funny and backed up a very solid singing performance. Midori Marsh, as ever the showman, made an effective foil as Papagena. Michael Colvin, singing Monostatos, was also an effective comedian and produced a performance which mercifully ignored the racial elements of the role and focused on the ridiculous side to good effect. The rest of the comedy came largely from the Three Ladies (Jamie Groote, Charlotte Siegel and Lauren Segal) who got maximum laughs out of just about every scene they appeared in and made an extremely enjoyable trio. The super playing the very camp dragon in the opening scene also deserves mention.

Ilker Arcayürek (Tamino) and Anna-Sophie Neher (Pamina)
© Michael Cooper

Of the “straight” characters, perhaps the most effective was Ilker Arcayürek's Tamino. He is a very stylish singer. His “Dies Bildnis” was lovely and throughout he maintained a pleasing blend of beautiful tone and expressiveness coupled with convincing acting. Anna-Sophie Neher as Pamina was making her first appearance in a major role on a major stage and, unsurprisingly, showed some first night nerves but generally it was a fine singing performance with her big arias showing appropriate emotion and some really good acting. Caroline Wettergreen’s Queen of the Night is not perhaps the scariest ever seen but was dramatically convincing and vocally impressive. Her coloratura was absolutely precise with the high notes clear and bright. David Leigh was a very fine Sarastro, his imposing appearance and strong, utterly solid, bass impressive. No wonder he has become something of a house favourite. The other roles were largely played by past and present members of the COC Ensemble Studio with a touch of luxury casting added with Russell Braun as the Speaker.

Jamie Groote, Charlotte Siegel and Lauren Segal (The Three Ladies)
© Michael Cooper

Patrick Lange’s conducting was effectively unobtrusive. The singers were well supported and the ensemble work crisp. As ever, the COC Orchestra and Chorus were committed and excellent.

With so many young local singers and house favourites on show this felt like a kind of gentle home coming at the Four Seasons Centre. The lightening up of the production makes sense in the current climate and was clearly appreciated by the opening night crowd, although anybody hoping for profundity would have been disappointed. All in all this was an enjoyable evening at the opera, if not one for the ages.