Review: San Francisco Opera stages a flashy new ‘Magic Flute’ 

Christina Gansch portrays Pamina in Mozart's "The Magic Flute." (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

There is much to like about the flashy new-to-San Francisco production of “The Magic Flute.” 
Linking one of the most loved operas of all time with 1920s German Expressionism and the world of silent film, the production works brilliantly on the level of comic book fairy tale that is so much a part of the opera, but less well in reference to Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder’s moral universe at the heart of the work.

Co-producers Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade’s 2012 Berlin production, with animation by Paul Barritt (directed here by Tobias Ribitski) is a riot of every imaginable image, from a herd of pink elephants in flight to silhouetted visions of ferocious man-eating animals, including a lovable brown snake who consumes the hero. (Think George Grosz and Otto Dix). Silent movie titles waft the spoken dialogue across the big screen.

Amitai Pati is Tamino (center) and Thomas Kinch and James McCarthy are the Armored Men in San Francisco Opera’s highly stylized production of “The Magic Flute.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

The animated projections provide a visual banquet: the Three Ladies swoon over Tamino on a carpet of exploding red roses, the three boys watch over Tamino from winged in-flight baskets, and the Queen of the Night is presented as a giant, rapacious spider. 
What this production does less well is to relate the complex of stories: a young couple’s search for love and enlightenment, the mysteries of the Masonic order of which the composer was a member, the pitting of good versus evil.

The static placement of the singers is problematic. They literally live inside a film, singing from perches above the stage behind doors that slide open when they appear. Then they disappear, filed away like books in a library. 
The lovers Tamino (Amitai Pati) and Pamina (Christina Gansch) never get close to each other during the trials Tamino must undergo to prove himself, and when they embrace during the finale, we have to ponder a little to be sure who they are. Pati is super princely, and if his usually honeyed and sinuous tenor occasionally seems muffled and Gansch’s gleaming high lines dimmed at times, they are a beautifully matched duo.


Anna Simińska plays the Queen of the Night and Amitai Pati plays Tamino in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

Any “Flute” must have a standout Queen of the Night on the dark side, and Anna Simińska sings with ferocious force, though her appearance as a giant, faceless spider makes her a rather remote figure. Kwangcuhl Youn’s Sarastro is well-rendered, and Zhengyi Bai voices Monostatos’ villainy with conviction.

Only Lauri Vasar as Papageno is given full run of the stage—a Buster Keaton lookalike whose comic ramble while viewing the explosive ever-moving world around him is the real through-line of the production. His warm, fresh baritone is just right for portraying the lonely bird catcher.


Lauri Vasar is Papageno in San Francisco Opera’s “The Magic Flute.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) 

Everything is superbly held together by San Francisco Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim, who conducts with fine sweep and authority, and the roving chorus performs masterfully.

San Francisco Opera’s “The Magic Flute” continues at 7:30 p.m. June 8, June 14, June 20, June 22 and June 26, and 2 p.m. June 30 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. For tickets ($26-$426) call (415) 864-3330 or visit  

The post Review: San Francisco Opera stages a flashy new ‘Magic Flute’  appeared first on Local News Matters.

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