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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Gerald W. Lynch Theater


A Magic Flute, Peter Brook’s extremely lean and elegant 90-minute adaptation of The Magic Flute, is hardly recognizable to opera fans accustomed to lavish, larger-than life productions of Mozart’s final opera-singspiel.

Gone are the special effects, puppetry and other technical wizardry associated with Julie Taymor’s long-running staging at the Metropolitan Opera – replaced with just seven barefoot singers, two non-singing actors, one piano accompanist (the excellent, subtle Franck Krawczyk) and a maze of bamboo sticks to represent numerous locations.

86-year-old Brook’s impact on contemporary theater cannot be overstated. In addition to penning The Empty Space, a now classic treatise on making theater (breaking it into the boring Deadly Theater, ritualistic Holy Theater, plebian Rough Theater and unpredictable Immediate Theater), he directed the original production and film adaptation of Marat/Sade, an extremely influential and circus-like 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the epic The Mahabharata.

A Magic Flute is reminiscent of Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen, which Lincoln Center Theater transferred to Broadway in 1983 and became the first show to successfully configure the tricky Vivian Beamount stage. His Carmen, set in a bullring, cut down the size of the cast, orchestra and running time and managed to make it feel immediate, intimate and thrilling.

The same can be said about Brook’s A Magic Flute, which is even smaller in size but no less invigorating in spirit. Brook casts aside distracting spectacle and excessive vocal display to focus on the mystical fairy tale at the opera’s core and its philosophical discussions about what initially appears and actually is good and evil.

Numerous small characters have been axed, most notably those three small boys who convince Pamina to not kill herself and the Queen’s three back-up ladies. The magic flute is portrayed by just a stick that, thanks to a small-hand trick, look as if it is floating in midair.

While the original German lyrics are sung, the dialogue is spoken in French. However, the transition from singing to speech still feels pretty seamless. 

Considering the extreme youth of the rotating cast (the actress playing the Queen of the Night looks about the same age as her daughter Pamena), and the fact that a single accompanist plays at the side of the stage, it often feels as if you are viewing a spare presentation by vocal students at Juilliard. Although they come across as a real ensemble, Thomas Dolie makes the strongest impression as the bird catcher Papageno, thanks to his engaging comic spirit.


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