Opera Atelier espouses truth in advertising: The Magic Flute, they tell us, is a Singspiel in two acts. You can call it a play with songs, a musical comedy, even an operetta, but hardly an opera in the traditional sense. Call it what you will, this is Opera Atelier’s fourth production of the work in the last 22 years.

Ambur Braid as The Queen of the Night © Bruce Zinger
Ambur Braid as The Queen of the Night
© Bruce Zinger

Marshall Pynkoski, the Co-Artistic Director of Opera Atelier, produces The Magic Flute as a musical comedy, sung in English, with colourful sets and costumes to delight everyone. After all, the original production in 1791 was in plain German at the popular Theater auf der Wieden, organised by its librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, a man of the commercial theatre.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth leads the cast as Tamino, the prince who will go through hell and high water, as they say, to reach some higher level of light, love, Masonic wisdom and Pamina. That may be his elevated aim, but Ainsworth sings in a relaxed manner, in a beautiful tone, like a crooner. He is a handsome prince who will overcome all obstacles with poise and grace.

The reason he is doing it, of course, is Pamina, the princess with whom he falls in love after one look at her portrait. As presented by soprano Laura Albino, his pursuit is worth it. Albino has a voice that is full of sweetness and musical-comedy passion. If she displays any more passion, she will be in danger of becoming a Verdian or Puccinian heroine and shorten her life to the length of the opera.

Bass-baritone Olivier LaQuerre made a good Papageno vocally but he was not as successful in his comic business. Pynkoski does not seem to have paid too much attention to the comic potential of the character and even the self-hanging scene did not produce all the laughter that it should. Soprano Ambur Braid sings the Queen of the Night. This role contains vocal acrobatics that give a soprano two chances to commit suicide in public. Everyone expects the high Fs, and she gets an instant ovation if she attains them and god help her if she falters. Braid made it and she sang the rest of her notes beautifully as well.

Bass João Fernandes did not have a good night as Sarastro. Fernandes’ deep voice rumbled along the low notes of his two arias but there was no colour or resonance in them. Even in a musical comedy, there was some room for gravitas and Fernandes showed very little of that. In his aria to Pamina, he faces the audience at the beginning of the aria when he is in fact addressing her. That may not be his fault but it is a directorial faux pas. Tenor Aaron Ferguson plays the nasty Monostatos as a clown. The white Ferguson wears a silly mask to make him look like a Moorish slave and he is very agile physically (so agile that at one point he skips rope) and sings reasonably well.

The comic plot of the Singspiel is coupled with some grandiose scenes in the Temple of Wisdom, where columns and concrete structures can be erected to compete with Cecil B. DeMille. Pynkoski and set designer Gerard Gauci eschew all such notions. The sets consist largely of painted panels that are lowered onto the stage. They are colourful but, except perhaps for the Temple of Wisdom, are not monumental.

The animals that appear are strictly papier-mâché. The Queen of the Night does appear suspended in mid-air with stars behind her but the scene is more beautiful than imposing.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, conducted by David Fallis, produces mellow sounds on period instruments and plays Mozart’s marvelous score quite brilliantly.

The costumes are stunningly beautiful, starting with the gowns for the Three Ladies and the Queen of the Night. We have bright yellow and turquoise and bright yellow and red costumes with turbans for the chorus and dancers, giving an exotic feel with perhaps a middle Eastern touch. The costumes and the sets add up to a colourful atmosphere suitable for a comic work that has some very serious elements in its bizarre plot. For Pynkoski and Opera Atelier it is a marvelous musical to be thoroughly enjoyed.

***11