When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote “The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte),” he hoped the opera would entertain the lower-class audience on the outskirts of Vienna with its humor and adventure. However, when it debuted in 1791, the work was declared a masterpiece thanks to its lovable characters and ingenious musical structure.
The opera maintains its popularity to this day, as proven by this weekend’s performance by Florida Grand Opera at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. A live orchestra, intricate costumes and transcendent voices proved a powerful combination, moving the crowd alternately from laughter to tears to thunderous applause.
Admittedly, the plot leaves a little to be desired. The story is a dream—or is it?—of a young man, Tamino, who falls in love with the daughter (Pamina) of the Queen of the Night and must rescue her from a cult of priests. A silly bird-hunter (Papageno)
accompanies Tamino on his quest, providing plenty of slapstick comedy. While “The Magic Flute” is believed to be an argument for Enlightenment philosophy and contains Masonic themes (Mozart and the author of the libretto, Emanuel Schikaneder, were lodge brothers), it would be pretty hard to follow without the projected English and Spanish subtitles above the stage.
However, the company puts a fresh spin on the production with modern touches sprinkled throughout. When magic bells put a group of guards into a trance, they start dancing—and doing 21st-century dance moves like The Dougie. Tamino wears jeans on his quest while the three boys of the choir don overalls and Chuck Taylor sneakers. And when a (seeming) old hag tries to seduce Papageno, he shouts, “Mrs. Robinson!” Making changes to a classic work can be pretty controversial, and it seemed that patrons were divided about the merit of these tweaks.
The Queen of the Night, a scheming mother who puts the plot into motion, is an extremely challenging role that calls for a coloratura soprano, a singer whose voice is marked by “elaborate embellishment”—in short, a lyrical acrobat with the ability to hit impossibly high notes. Jeanette Vecchione, in her FGO debut, does the role justice, stunning the crowd to awed silence in her second aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart),” which hits a rare “high F6.” Her pitch is so perfect that she sounds Auto-Tuned—and that moment alone makes “The Magic Flute” well worth the price of admission.
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954/640-CLUB, browardcenter.org