The Magic Flute comes with baggage. There’s misogyny and racism embedded in the text. Its moral message boils down to “Trust dudes with beards, and also love is cool!” The libretto is long, poorly paced and dumb as a bag of rocks; unless you’re really into Freemasonry, the second half drags ass all the way to a jarring anticlimax.
There are good things built in, too, obviously, or it wouldn’t be one of the most popular operas ever. There’s Mozart’s immensely likeable score. The jokes transcend time and language. The Queen of the Night’s big arias are a standing invitation to bring down the house; ditto the fairy-tale setting for costume and set designers. Still, modern productions of The Magic Flute tend to have some sort of conceit to distract from the nonsensical story: It’s all a dream! It’s a post-suicide journey to the afterlife! It’s drugs! Postmodernism!
In Diane Paulus’ new take, a production premiered in Toronto in 2011 and now getting its third outing from Opera Philadelphia, the Academy of Music’s stage literally contains another, smaller stage, on which an 18th-century audience of aristocrats and servants watch a production of The Magic Flute. I hate to discourage Opera Philadelphia from giving new stuff a shot, but this production is confusing, and its core concept — plus a couple key voices one afternoon — just isn’t all there.
Rachele Gilmore recently posted a picture of herself (above) in her Queen of the Night costume on Twitter with the caption “First attempt at making the mean scary Queen face. I’m not sure it was a total success ;) #magicflute.” Her debut with Opera Philadelphia this week in The Magic Flute, which runs April 19 to 28, is the first time she’s ever sung the famous Queen of the Night arias — the role requires both the rage-face of a Disney villainess and lots of fast, incredibly high notes that only a few singers, called coloratura sopranos, have the physical ability to pull off.
Gilmore’s voice is high even for a coloratura — she astonished Met audiences in 2009 when, as an understudy called up with only a few hours’ notice to step into the whiz-bang role of wind-up doll Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann, she whipped off a cadenza ending in a seemingly effortless high A-flat, the highest note ever recorded on that stage. Video of her performance — complete with audible gasps from the audience and a full minute of wild applause — went viral on YouTube. Gilmore, who lives in Cherry Hill when she’s not on the road singing, spoke with City Paper.