A Magic Flute
Peter Brook's stripped-down, 100-minute version of Mozart's great opera is indisputably refreshing.
Indeed, this intermissionless 100-minute version, which has been "freely adapted by Brook, Franck Krawczyk and Marie-Helene Estienne, proves to be a welcome antidote to the many overly-festooned, overly-cute treatments of the classic opera about youth, love and the forces of good and evil.
To tell the tale this time, Brook takes pages from The Empty Space, his revered text on creating innovative theater, and empties the stage of everything but multiple, movable bamboo rods on stands. He also strips away an orchestra, leaving only pianist Krawczyk to play (masterfully) a lean version of the score, and also discards the libretto's many references to Masonic symbols, perhaps to few regrets nowadays.
What he leaves are nine young actors to tell -- almost as if in story-theater mode -- what happens when Tamino (Adrian Strooper) seeks true love with the imprisoned Pamina (Jeanne Zaepffel), accompanied by Papageno (Thomas Dolie), who is also looking for a mate -- and who finds one in Papagena (Dima Bawab), an ideal counterpart.
During a quest aided by a magic flute given Tamino and a magic bell (here a triangle) handed Papageno, they're helped and hindered --sometimes both -- by the brooding Queen of the Night (Malia Bendi-Merad), ultimately benevolent Sarastro (Luc Bertin-Hugault), his scheming companion Monostatos (Raphael Bremard) and two jacks-of-various-trades (William Nadylam, Abdou Ouologuem).
While some may argue the peregrinations and interactions between and among those so intricately entangled makes little sense, all agree it's the music that counts. And what enchanting music it is, here sung in German (with surtitles) --and spoken in French (surtitles, too) -- by this most appealing ensemble. Although these aren't uniformly large voices, they are more than adequate for the medium-sized auditorium.
Strooper has a clear tenor unsullied by any attempts at vocal tricks or, indeed, anything that detracts from a winning modesty. Dolie sings with amusingly rubbery tones that compliment his amusingly rubbery physicality, and his beloved duet with Bawab is the evening's comic highlight.
Any Mozart-watcher is going to want to know how the Queen of the Night's famous aria with its coloratura hurdles comes off, and Bendi-Merad does nicely. On the other hand, Zaepffel's soprano works some of the time, but runs into difficulty when she gets to Pamina's famous lament, and Bertin-Hugault's bass-baritone could stand some firming up.