From madcap designer Gerald Scarfe’s nifty stage-filling dragon that starts the action, to Mozart’s audible sunshine that irradiates its final message — that love conquers all — the L.A. Opera’s “Magic Flute” remains one of its triumphant productions. First produced in 1993, revived in 1998 and again this past weekend in the first of nine performances, the spectacle remains as fresh and as ageless as — well, as the opera itself.
Some of its pristine excellences remain in place. Korean super-soprano Sumi Jo is again on hand as the menacing Queen of the Night, the high Fs in her “vengeance aria” as dazzling as in 1993. Rodney Gilfry, proud alumnus of the L.A. Opera’s training program, is once again the Papageno, the wit and grace of the role now refined into a comic invention of wondrous humanness and depth. Greg Fedderly, another one-time apprentice, has — as in 1993 — turned the evil Monostatos into some kind of slithering reptile from outer space. (In the 1998 revival Fedderly sang Tamino, the romantic lead, to lesser effect.)
Diminutive Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost, in her company debut, stole hearts with her intense, appealing Pamina. German bass Reinhard Hagen, also in his first company appearance, invested Sarastro’s noble rhetoric with firm control. As the Prince Tamino, German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade mingled passion with classical elegance, giving little evidence that, only four hours before, he had substituted for an ailing singer in some tonsil-twisting Mahler with the L.A. Philharmonic in the same Music Center stage.
The prime achievement of Scarfe’s designs is their wonderful closeness to the Mozartian sounds themselves: the reds and rusts of his woodwind scoring — nicely brought out in Sunday’s performance under veteran conductor Lawrence Foster — the dark golds of his trombones, the subtle and supple magic that overrides the obvious inconsistencies in Emanuel Schikaneder’s plot twists.
Director Sir Peter Hall’s 1993 decision to retain the spoken German dialogue uncut — including jokes that had already grown a layer of mold in 1791 Vienna — was, alas, maintained, including some of the anti-feminist digs that inevitably caused a stir in Sunday’s near-capacity audience. Less, in this instance, might have been more.