Washington National Opera brought its main-stage spring season to a cheerful close, on a sunny Sunday afternoon mid-May, with its new The Magic Flute, a coproduction with San Francisco Opera and three other American companies. Director Harry Silver-stein's and designer Jun Kaneko's vision of this deceptively difficult-to-stage-well opera wasn't entirely dissimilar to Julie Taymor's for the Met in George Tsypin's decor (a production I admittedly abhor), but it's far less of an empty marionette show, far more humane. Kaneko's sets--pliant panel's and projections, with strong lines defining both (the latter with moving-crayon-like curves, horizontals, verticals and diagonals)--never impeded, always propelled, the storytelling; and his costumes managed just the right dose of stylized orientalia. And Silverstein never pushed the comic buttons too hard (despite a new, highly colloquial English version by Kelley Rourke that occasionally threatened to do so); he even managed to insert a few unobtrusive touches of 21st-century political correctness--a white-faced Mono-statos; a Pamina who takes charge for the trial by water--into Schikaneder's very biased text. Somehow, the new text's allusion to tweeting, and the staging's to twerking, charmed rather than jarred.
There was a fine cast, too, led by two winning Canadians. Joseph Kaiser, after a slightly bumpy "Dies Bildnis," once again proved his keen command of what's surely his signature role. And it was a pleasure to see and hear Joshua Hopkins in a role the size of Papageno. He sang with a handsome dark burr and acted with a never-oversold ingenuous charm--his countdown (or, rather, count-up) to his proposed suicide was both funny and poignant. Maureen McKay was the lovely, clear-toned, forthright Painina; and as her night-reigning mother, Kathryn Lewek won the afternoon's biggest ovation for her maliciously propulsive dead-on-target "Der HoIle Rache." David Pittsinger made a commanding Speaker; John Easterlin, a vividly comic Monastatos; and Jacqueline Echols,. Sarah Mesko, and Deborah Nansteel (all present or past members ofWNO's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program) made a splendid trio of Ladies. Only Jordan Bisch disappointed, lacking the weight, solidity and cavernous bottom notes one wants in a Sarastro (I wish I'd heard his predecessor, the immensely impressive Soloman Howard.) WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin, launched the overture with a markedly slow and solemn declaration of its Masonic credentials, but was quick to lighten his touch along with Mozart. It was a well balanced Flute all round, and the demographically well-balanced audience (there were plenty of children, and one of my two lovely companions had just turned 95) all seemed to exit with happy smiles.