Sunday, October 28, 2007
The Magic Flute For Families
Along with nine performances of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" this fall, the San Francisco Opera company is offering two matinee performances of a condensed, English version of the opera at steeply reduced prices, and they quickly sold out.
In the eyes and ears of a number of people, including myself, the kiddie version is superior to its more serious, adult counterpart for a number of reasons. The English translation by the former "New Yorker" music critic, Andrew Porter, is a marvel of wit and clarity, and the boring German dialogue has been thrown out in favor of the story being narrated by Papageno, the comic birdcatcher. In the person of baritone Daniel Belcher, the concept is a triumph, not only because his voice is beautiful but he's genuinely funny onstage, improvising up a storm.
Best of all, this isn't a dumbed-down, patronizing version for kids. The abridgement has been put together by the opera company's Kip Cranna and the young director Yuval Sharon, and they have kept all the grandeur and silliness intact.
Plus, the young Russian conductor who was to have led the performances was "let go" after the final dress rehearsal because music director Donald Runnicles didn't care for her inconsistent tempos, so he jumped in to conduct it himself, which resulted in a musical triumph.
Also scoring a personal triumph was Jeremy Galyon (above), an Adler Fellow apprentice, who took on the difficult role of Sarastro with ease and confidence. It's a role he should soon be singing all over the world.
My favorite moment was hearing a self-possessed seven-year-old boy, sounding like a precocious child from a Saki short story, pronouncing calmly to his mother as they were walking out of the opera house, "That was the greatest thing I have ever seen." If the intention of this production was to create an instant convert to opera of an "artistic" child, then this was definitely mission accomplished.