ArtsEmerson's "Magic Flute": Survival of the Flautist

The Cast of "The Magic Flute"
(photo: Keith Pattison)

With its familiar overture suddenly performed as though never heard before, with drums and marimbas, this version of Mozart's “Magic Flute” was not the typical form of this deservedly popular allegorical opera, here adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May for the Isango Ensemble of Cape Town. While the basic libretto and music are essentially the same, the sound is not, making for a unique reintroduction to Mozart’s magic. A production by Eric Abraham and the Young Vic (which won the 2008 Olivier Award in London as Best Musical Revival), this was a revelation. Told as a South African Tsonga folk tale (titled Impempe Yomlingo in the South African language of Xhosa), it resonates with tropes familiar to such folklore, from bird catchers to trial by fire and water.
The Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute"
(photo: Keith Pattison)

With a cast of some two dozen dancing singers (actually quadruple threats, as actors and instrumentalists as well), it’s a revival in several senses, especially in the Musical Direction by Paulina Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis and Choreography by Lungelo Ngamlana, something to hear and see. With a raked Set Design by Dornford-May and Dan Watkins, Lighting Design by Mannie Manim and Costume Design by Leigh Bishop, this morality tale was given a whole new lease on life. If you think you’ve seen the definitive “Magic Flute” sometime in the past, think again. This was the “Magic Flute” of the present and the future. It’s not unlike rediscovering the pleasures of being in the company of an old friend, with suddenly renewed vim and vigor filling the Cutler Majestic Theater as perhaps never since the company's first visit with this production five seasons ago. The ensemble is even more energetic, though some soloists in this current production seemed out of their vocal comfort zone.

The survival of this flautist continued through November 10th.

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