Saturday, August 8, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of The Magic Flute uses a bold if not always successful adaptation of Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto by Kelley Rourke and is directed by Madeline Sayet.     

Tamino, the prince in the original opera, is a harried office worker in a large city who escapes from the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle and goes to live in the forest. He wears a modern suit and most of the other characters are dressed in modern attire.

Sean Panikkar as Tamino and So Young Park as Queen of the Night. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Tamino runs into some unusually large and annoying insects and faints. The frightful monster of the original libretto is dispensed with. He is rescued by Three Ladies who serve the Queen of the Night. The bird catcher Papageno comes out but looks more like an employee of the Forestry Department than a wild man who is also funny.

The same changes are made throughout the production and the result is not always happy. Rourke brings in modern references and the production tries to make The Magic Flute more approachable and modern at the cost of the magic which is the whole point of the opera. There may be some who prefer modernity, of course.

The production is sung in English and that has the advantage of being understandable and the drawback of the lyrics not always fitting the music. Mozart composed music for specific words and if you cannot find an English word with the same number of syllables and accent the result is awkward. The singer is forced to rush over the extra syllable of the English word and the listener cringes. The best solution is the compromise: spoken words in English, arias in German.

Tenor Sean Panikkar made a good Tamino. He sang well but without as much passion as one would expect. Are office workers less effusive than mythical princes?

Sean Panikkar as Tamino, Soloman Howard as Sarastro and Jacqueline Echols as Pamina. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Baritone Ben Edquist as Papageno has a fine voice and natural comic talent which seemed not to be put to best use. Papageno has many opportunities for comic business and double-takes and for some reason Sayet made little use of them.

Soprano So Young Park gives a dramatic and vocally accomplished performance as The Queen of the Night. The production hampers her into singing like an irate mother rather than an exemplar of regal wrath on a grand scale.

Monostatos is an interesting character who can be played as ridiculous or pretty nasty as a potential molester. In this production he registers as a minor nuisance and tenor Nicholas Nestorak was not given much chance to show what he can do with a character like that.

Bass Soloman Howard sang an exceptional Sarastro. He has a commanding voice with stupendous low notes to give us an impressive High Priest of Isis and Osiris. Rourke calls him a guide, if memory serves me correctly, which is a significant demotion.

The Glimmerglass Festival Chorus was placed on the balcony on each side of the stage. They sang magnificently and their position just above us gave the feeling that their voices embraced us. Marvelous.

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra was conducted by Carolyn Kuan and there can be no complaints about their performance.     

The conductor, the director and the libretto adapter of this Magic Flute are all women. There will come a time, we hope soon, when the gender of these people in an opera production will be unnoticeable and unimportant. No doubt there are operas that are directed, conducted and the libretto adapted by women but I am not aware of any. I need hardly add that the Artistic and General Director of the Festival is Francesca Zambello.

Let’s hear it for the Glimmerglass Festival!

The Magic Flute  by W. A. Mozart (music) and Emanuel Schikaneder (libretto adapted by Kelley Rourke) opened on July10 and will be performed  twelve times until August 23, 2015 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

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