Review: This ‘Magic Flute’ at the Met Lacks Some Luster

The evolution of Julie Taymor’s production of “Die Zauberflöte” from long-running hit to children’s-theater show at the Metropolitan Opera is now complete.

Since the premiere of Taymor’s staging in 2004, her diaphanous puppets and George Tsypin’s translucent set pieces have brought a welcome weightlessness to Mozart’s hard-to-stage singspiel, which wraps fairy-tale monsters, young love and a Masonic quest in melodies of direct and abundant charm. This abridged version, in English, followed a few years later as a holiday show for families (though, at nearly two hours without intermission, it doesn’t exactly fly by).

When the Met introduced a new production of the work by Simon McBurney last May that sees the world with a brand of childlike wonder that’s really meant for adults, it decided to keep Taymor’s puppets-and-plexiglass version as a separate, family-friendly entertainment that can be trotted out this time of year.

This season’s run of the Taymor version, dubbed “The Magic Flute — Holiday Presentation,” opened on Friday with a rough let’s-put-on-a-show energy. The cast played broadly to its young audience. The orchestra, conducted by Patrick Furrer, sounded thin and tinny, lacking the mellow-gold shine that conveys nobility and transcendence in this score.

On paper, it made sense to cast the tenor Rolando Villazón in the comic baritone role of Papageno. Now a stage director as well as a singer, he has largely given up the lyric tenor roles that catapulted him to the top of the opera world two decades ago. Still, he has charisma to burn, and Papageno is more or less the main character of this adaptation. Unfortunately, Villazón struggled with the low-for-him tessitura; his voice, tired and frayed, often floated around the center of the pitch when he wasn’t tweaking melodies to suit his range.

It was sad to see an artist who was once capable of rare musical insight funnel his considerable creative energy into a frenetic, always-on physicality. Mimicking Woody Woodpecker’s laugh and Road Runner’s “meep meep!” he practically morphed into a cartoon. His improvisations and sprinklings of Spanish into the dialogue won over the audience, and his genuine rapport with the priest portrayed by Scott Scully, perhaps the Met’s funniest comprimario, was a joy.

Kathryn Lewek, a scintillating Queen of the Night in McBurney’s production last season, returned to the role for this holiday run.Credit…Evan Zimmerman

Janai Brugger (Pamina) and Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro) sounded a bit colorless in the first half, but their voices ripened as the show progressed. As the opera’s hero Tamino, the tenor Piotr Buszewski could be sensitive, but too often his singing came across as overcooked.

Kathryn Lewek, a scintillating Queen of the Night in McBurney’s production last season, returned to the role for this holiday run. Regardless of what was going on around her, she sang like she was on the stage of one of the world’s foremost lyric theaters. “O zittre nicht,” in particular, was captivating with its soft tone, graceful lyricism and sharply etched coloratura. Putting aside a dry note here and there, “Der Hölle Rache” had impressive point, and the triplets tumbled seamlessly.

Chuckles and puppets make for a fun night with the kids, but singing like Lewek’s is what the magic of opera is all about.

The Magic Flute

Through Dec. 30 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan;

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