The Magic Flute | Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

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This OTSL production is mostly enjoyable, even when Mizrahi overloads the stage or rides a joke too long. (Don’t get me started about that ostrich in pumps!)




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Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of The Magic Flute abounds with visual delights, which is not surprising because fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi not only produced the opera but also designed the sets and costumes.

The conceit of Mizrahi’s production is that the story is taking place on a Hollywood soundstage in some indeterminate time between the 1930s and the 1950s. It’s an inspired choice, because the “dream factory” of Hollywood’s Golden Age is a good match to the benign magic practiced in Mozart’s Singspiel (play with music), and the sturdy simplicity of The Magic Flute leaves plenty of room for a producer to layer on ideas.

Hollywood’s Golden Age also featured plenty of outsized personalities, and Mizrahi picked up on this in the most successful aspect of this production—presenting the Queen of the Night (Claire de Sévigné) as an aging Hollywood diva in the Gloria Swanson mold, complete with turban, dark glasses, lounging pajamas, and a truly fantastic train that creates the best visual moment of the evening.

There are plenty of other Hollywood references in Mizrahi’s production, some of which work and others of which are just head-scratchers. Casting the three attendants of the Queen of the Night (Raquel González, Summer Hassan, and Corrie Stallings) in characteristically female movie production roles (costumes, makeup, and hair) fits perfectly, but why is the non-dancing Tamino (Sean Panikkar) dressed like Gene Kelly in the dream sequence from An American in Paris? And why, other than for the gag effect, are the Three Spirits (Emily Tweedy, Gilliam Lynn Cotter, and Fleur Barron) presented as if they had just wandered in from a comic number in The Band Wagon?

Mizrahi has included lots of dance sequences in The Magic Flute, often paralleling an aria with a dance performance that sometimes underlines and expands its meaning (for instance, when two male dancers portray a loving couple in counterpoint to Papageno and Papagena’s descriptions of marital bliss) and sometimes simply distract from the fine vocal performances of the cast members.

The orchestra was ably led by Jane Glover, who is a Mozart scholar as well as a musician, and the vocal performances were generally strong, with particular kudos going to Elizabeth Zharoff as Pamina and Levi Hernandez as Papageno. Unfortunately, the orchestra sometimes overpowered the voices. The lyrics—despite being sung in English—were often unintelligible. The projected titles tended to be slow off the mark, appearing in the middle of a phrase rather than at the beginning, and sometimes disappeared entirely.

This is a production that believes in throwing a lot of stuff at the audience, Coen Brothers-style, and isn’t too concerned about how it all works together. Whether you find that inspired or exasperating is largely a matter of personal taste, and, fortunately, this OTSL production is mostly enjoyable even when Mizrahi overloads the stage or rides a joke too long. (Don’t get me started about that ostrich in pumps!) | Sarah Boslaugh

The Magic Flute continues in repertory at the Loretto-Hilton Center through June 28. The next production, The Elixir of Love, opens on May 31, followed by the world premier of Twenty-Seven on June 14 and Dialogues of the Carmelites on June 18. Call 314-973-4228 for ticket information or look online at

Photos © Ken Howard, 2014

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