NY Times, October 9, 2006
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte, Metropolitan Opera, October 2006
Magical Puppets Brought to Life by Opera
If only all journeys to enlightenment were as whimsical and lighthearted as the route chosen by Julie Taymor in her magical production of Mozart's "Zauberflöte," whose revival at the Metropolitan Opera opened Saturday. Ms. Taymor's vision of Mozart's opera, a fairy-tale allusion to Freemason rituals, features elegantly cheerleading bear puppets, a hilariously campy dance by Monostatos's slaves, the dramatic entrance of a white-winged Queen of the Night and a charming duet in which Papageno and Papagena dream of baby Papageni.

There is a sense of symmetry and proportion to George Tsypin's plexiglass sets, which are dotted with suitably mysterious hieroglyphics and Masonic symbols, around which Ms. Taymor's fanciful puppet serpents, bears and birds writhe and flutter.

While the stage is filled with cavorting puppets, Ms. Taymor mostly allows the singers to stand and deliver without contortionist poses or acrobatics. Nathan Gunn was appealingly animated as the bird catcher, Papageno, combining intelligent, vibrant singing with charismatic acting. His comic timing had the audience in stitches.

Next to his jolly scampering, Jonas Kaufmann's Tamino seemed not only princely and virtuous, but uptight and stiff. Mr. Kaufmann was fine vocally, but was perhaps hindered by his stylized gestures and Kabuki makeup from expressing real passion for Pamina.

How any man could not relent before the beautiful Isabel Bayrakdarian's ardent Pamina was a mystery, but in the aria "Ach, ich fühl's" her concern that her love for Tamino went unreciprocated seemed valid. Ms. Bayrakdarian wielded her clear, bright, expressive voice to vividly convey Pamina's anguish, just one highlight of her superb portrayal.

Stephen Milling was a fine Sarastro, imposing and stentorian, if slightly strained in the lowest register. Volker Vogel was a strong, sneaky and amusing Monostatos. Erika Miklósa, Queen of the Night, nailed her scarily high notes in the aria "Der Hölle Rache" but didn't seem intimidating enough for someone with such gruesome talons.

Ms. Taymor's production occasionally requires a high degree of sensory multitasking. But given the erratic conducting of Scott Bergeson, whose inconsistent tempos were sometimes completely out of sync with the singers, it was better to focus on the visual stimuli.

If the opera finished on a somewhat anticlimactic note, it was perhaps because Papageno's happy ending seemed more compelling than Tamino's rather lackluster journey to enlightenment. But it was certainly an enchanting ride.

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