The Magic Flute, one of the greatest operas of all time, is completely nuts.
There’s a boy who’s a bird who is looking for birds, and a girl who’s a bird who is looking for love, and a trio of babes and a trio of children, a bad man who’s good, a good mom gone bad, a couple of mixed up kids and a supernatural pipe.
There’s a journey, a quest, a trial by fire, an initiation in to an exclusively male society and, I guess, a happy ending. But maybe not.
Maybe the bad guy who’s good is actually bad (he does have slaves, after all), and maybe the mom gone bad hasn’t really gone bad as much as gone righteously peeved at the world of powerful dudes. There’s the usual sexism and racism that runs through most classical European art, but there’s also sweetness and funny stuff and pyrotechnic singing of tunes you’ll recognize even if you’ve never been to an opera in your life.
This Magic Flute, which runs at McCaw Hall through May 21st, is a remount of Seattle Opera’s 2011 production, and it negotiates the political difficulties of Mozart and Schikanader’s weird Masonic fairy tale by infusing it with Trump-world commentary. I won’t spoil your pleasure by citing specifics, but I urge you to pay close attention to Jonathan Dean’s up-to-the-minute English language supertitles.
There’s not way you can’t pay attention to Zandra Rhodes’ costumes. They pop right out at you: a trio of angels wears shiny silver overall shorts (and ride in on scooters); a passel of children flaunt Kelly green wigs; the slaves are blue as the Beatles’ Blue Meanies, and one guy’s orange hair stands up on his head like a flame.
The set, in contrast, is really spare, curtains pulled sharply apart triangularly in homage to the Masonic subtext of the story.
Christina Poulitsi, in her Seattle Opera debut, tore it up as the Queen of the Night. According to the program, Poulitsi will be reviving the role soon at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, where she will also, as in Seattle, follow the baton of conductor Maestro Julia Jones.
I remember when I was a kid hearing about a female orchestra conductor. It was a novelty. In 1976, not quite 200 years after The Magic Flute premiered, Sarah Caldwell was the first woman to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera. Nowadays, despite ours being the age of Trump, a female maestro is not such a rarity, and brainy, progressive companies like ours are able to present classics in ways that both honor the greatness of the art and remake them in images we can live with.