Julie Taymor’s ambitious 2006 Metropolitan Opera production of Mozart’s Magic Flute was the first in the acclaimed HD broadcast series, and was broadcast live to movie theaters around the globe. It is an absolute visual and aural delight for young and old alike, with some of the most impressive costume and set designs in all of the Met’s digital archive.

The visual design of the opera (sets and costumes are also by Taymor) are simply breathtaking. Constant motion is achieved on set with the aid of skilled puppeteers who, helped by clever lighting, invisibly control a myriad of props and set pieces, from wild fluttering birds to ferocious polar bears, great winged herons to plates of spaghetti, sausages, wine and other delicacies. Sarastro’s temple was epic in construction, containing gargantuan moving set pieces as is common with the Met, but this time designed fantastically, combining the extraterrestrial with China’s Ming Dynasty.

Mozart and Schikaneder’s story is sung in English for this production, in a whimsical poetic translation by J.D. McClatchy. Led by music director James Levine, a solid cast deliver Mozart’s music masterfully, which the young composer wrote with specific singers in mind. Curiously, the wonderful overture was is nearly in half in the video editing – a real shame.The noble yet perpetually confused prince Tamino is sung by tenor Matthew Polenzani, who has the most bright, comfortable voice of all the cast, and the most vivid and expressive diction. His beloved Pamina is sung by Ying Huang, who, despite her pivotal nature in the opera, actually isn’t given many of its more memorable musical selections. 

The most famous tune from this opera is of course the Queen of the Night’s aria “Der Hölle Rache”, sung in this production by Erika Miklósa, who, despite a rather thick accent, delivers this treacherously athletic number with poise, confidence and crystal-clear intonation. This, paired with her costume – a swirling mass of shimmering fabric resembling the wings of a demon, long, blood-red claws, and an otherwordly visage akin to the Reverend Mother in David Lynch’s Dune, caused her to stand out as one of the more memorable characters.Papageno, the whimsical and loose-lipped bird-catcher, is played here by Nathan Gunn, who also deserves a special mention for wonderful singing and acting. He is dressed in bright green and encircled by a wooden, cage-like encasement. His text, much of which is spoken, is updated for modern times in order not to lose the comedic potency that it would have had in its day.

The high priest Sarastro – René Pape – is at first menacing and at last noble and revered, and is accompanied not only by the most regal musical accompaniment, but also by some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring sets in the production. Clothed in a robe which appears to be made from rays of the sun, Pape’s thick, dark voice at all times projected deep wisdom and power. This production has an incredible unity of conception, in part attained by Taymor’s joint responsibility as director and designer, and in part by the obvious synergy of the cast, ease of movement on a dark and perilous stage, and of course the bright and crystalline strains of musical accompaniment leaping from Levine’s orchestra pit. It is the tradition of the Met to present classics of the operatic literature with the intention of mass appeal, both for children and connoisseurs, and in that vein they achieve a triumph with this production.