In common with many another company, Los Angeles Opera is often taken to task for programming too many revivals of productions they have mounted before, and before that, and before that. There has not been much of such grumbling in the air this month, however, as LAO revisits -- for the fourth time -- its 1992 production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. The reasons were plain at Saturday evening's performance: the production design by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe remains a puckish bundle o' fun and the current production is likely the best sung, and certainly the best played, that LAO has yet presented.
The production is running with two parallel casts. Saturday's performance featured Joseph Kaiser as the princely flautist Tamino, a role he also played in Kenneth Branagh's mysteriously unavailable film version. The other carryover from Branagh's film is the conductor: LA Opera Music Director James Conlon. Conlon has a longstanding connection to the Flute -- he revealed in the pre-performance conversation that he met his eventual wife when she was singing the role of Pamina -- and the LA Opera orchestra under his leadership provides a scintillant account of Mozart's score.
The pleasures of Mozart notwithstanding, Flute would not enjoy the continual popularity it does if it focused on its noble characters' noble quest for noble enlightenment. No, the Flute is best loved for the character who wants nothing to do with ordeals and wisdom, the bird catcher -- in Scarfe's conception as much bird as man himself -- Papageno. On the other occasion when I saw this production, in the early '90s, Papageno was performed by the then up and coming Rod Gilfry. Gilfry is a splendid singing actor, and his Papageno is very good, but for lightness of touch and skill in getting the jokes across he is topped in this revival by Markus Werba. Here we see Werba with his Papagena (the feisty Valerie Vinzant, making us wish her role was a larger one) happily contemplating a life of wedded bliss devoted to the production of clutch upon clutch of junior bird men:
The production runs through this week, with four more performances between now and Sunday.
As for me, my upcoming Sunday afternoon will be spent with Long Beach Opera's production of Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen, of which more once I have seen it.