Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) The Magic Flute

Teiya Kasahara (photo credit: Tim Matheson)
A celebrated Magic Flute comes back to Vancouver
by Jay Catterson
(this article has been corrected)

The acclaimed West Coast-inspired production of Mozart's The Magic Flute by the Vancouver Opera has returned to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, this time with new staging and visual enhancements not originally seen in its first incarnation back in 2007. The production, directed by James W. Wright Robert McQueen, felt exciting, fresh and current, firmly planting one foot in tradition and the other in the 21st century. 

Traditional opera purists might feel otherwise, with the original German libretto being swapped out for an English one with traces of Musqueam language strewn throughout, but this production works overall. Added to this production is the use of dazzling high definition projections, combined with curtains and simple set design (mainly consisting of an overhead causeway and a rocky outcrop that was moved about by stagehands), to effectively transport the viewer to the ethereal forest world of the Coast Salish. At times I felt that Sean Nieuwenhuis' projection design was a tad jarring, but for the most part it was highly effective, almost cinema-like, in combination with Kevin McAllister's scenic design.

This production of The Magic Flute is an ambitious testament to keeping opera relevant while staying true to its roots.

Also keeping this production fresh was a young stellar principal cast, showcasing the brightest opera talent from Western Canada and the First Nations. Even Tamino (played by tenor John Tessier) and Pamina (performed by soprano Rachel Fenlon at this performance), the destined-to-be lovers at the heart of the story, sported trendy outfits akin to those found in stores such as Holt Renfrew and Aritzia while the others were draped in exquisite Coast Salish-inspired garb designed by co-designers Christine Reimer and John Powell. This is opera that is accessible; to pick such a well-known singspiel such as Flute to fuse with authentic First Nations traditions was definitely a daring, but great choice, especially one that appeals to a young Vancouver crowd, most of whom have probably never have attended the opera before.

Notable standouts include soprano Teiya Kasahara, whose vocal prowess as the Queen of the Night was equally as stunning as her gorgeous blue butterfly-winged gown (her Queen of the Night aria does not disappoint!), as well as Joshua Hopkins as the birdcatcher Papageno, who stole the show with his amazing baritone vocals and hilarious stage antics. 

This production of The Magic Flute is an ambitious testament to keeping opera relevant while staying true to its roots. Its creative blend of Coast Salish traditions with Mozart's masterpiece is glorious to the eye and the ear, and successfully serves to excite seasoned opera fans and to induct those new to opera at the same time. A must-see. 


  1. I have to completely disagree with you, though I am definitely no Opera buff. I found this production confusing and disjointed. This is the first Opera I have ever been to and it is making me never want to see one again.

    As you said at the beginning, it really isn't the traditional Opera, which is actually really unfortunate.

    First of all, the main characters presented in street clothes, including jeans and a cardigan. There was nothing interesting about the main characters. The Queen of the Night stole the show and how sad, because she only sang twice. Her costume was amazing and made the Opera, what an Opera should be.

    The whole concept was confusing. The elevated catwalk, the two "naked" women dancing around were pointless (though they did it beautifully) and the set changes were occurring right in the middle of song. The set was simplistic and boring and the costumes were lame (the First Nations costumes were lovely).

    I do not understand how the First Nations concept was to be included in the Opera, other than a few words and some beautiful costumes. I would be happy to see an entire Opera dedicated to the First Nations and the language of the Coast Salish people, including drumming and Opera. I think that would be beautiful.

    Unfortunately, a woman beside me fell asleep and I nodded off by accident. I was continuously looking at my watch wondering "when is this going to end". I thought the length was too long. I felt bad wondering when it was going to end.

    Other than the Queen of the Night, I would not recommend this production. Period.

    1. I was at the Magic Flute tonight and I disagree with the above review. Yes this is a nontraditional Magic Flute at the same time the audience tonight reflected the mixture of ages and cultures in Vancouver. When the opera was finished the response of the audience was the most excited I have ever seen. Many aspects from First Nations culture were included including dances, taking about the creator in the story etc.

      I went to the preconcert talk and many people there were at their first opera and first time seeing the MF. I have seen the MF in German and enjoyed this new production just as much.

      If you can still find tickets I say go see go and enjoy something new!

  2. I agree with the second review above. I saw the MF on Saturday the 16th, and what a refreshing, beautifully progressive version. The Coast Salish setting fit very well with the story, and of course, the music....

    I have seen many operas in my day, and it is wonderful to get a fresh take on a classic - lovely to see some creativity (and guts!) in the interpretation - isn't that what art is all about??


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