Review: ‘Magic Flute’ Welcomes Children Back to the Met

It’s always heartening to see lots of eager children in the audience when the Metropolitan Opera presents its family-friendly version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” during the holidays.

But when the company reopened in September, their return was uncertain. The Met, which since the start of its season has required all who enter to be vaccinated, de facto banned children under 12, who were not eligible for vaccines.

When eligibility expanded at the end of October, though, the door was open for kids to come back. And they did on Friday, to Julie Taymor’s fantastical production — trimmed to just under two intermissionless hours and performed in J.D. McClatchy’s snappy English adaptation.

The tenor Rolando Villazón as Papageno, a role usually sung by baritones, and the soprano Hera Hyesang Park as Pamina.Credit…Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera

The performance boasted a winning cast and glowing playing from the orchestra, led with elegance and insight by Jane Glover. I’ve long been in the minority in finding Taymor’s stylized, puppet-filled staging overly busy — too inventive for its own good. But the audience applauded each scenic touch and stage trick, including some children near me, though there seemed not that many of them in attendance overall. (The company is also offering an abridged, English-language version of Massenet’s “Cinderella,” which opens on Friday.)

From the melting love aria that Prince Tamino sings early on, the tenor Matthew Polenzani — who sang the role at this staging’s premiere in 2004 — was in warm, ardent voice. When the questing Tamino exchanges questions with the Speaker (the robust bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), who oversees the entrance to a temple of wisdom, Polenzani’s heated earnestness lent the scene dark intensity. And his English diction was a model of clarity.

Pamina, with whom Tamino falls in love, was sung beautifully by the plush-voiced soprano Hera Hyesang Park. Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, was the soprano Kathryn Lewek, who dispatched her florid leaps and super-high notes with fearless brilliance. The powerful bass Morris Robinson made an imposing yet trustworthy Sarastro, the spiritual leader of the temple.

In a bold move, the tenor Rolando Villazón sang Papageno, the hapless bird catcher — traditionally a baritone role. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Villazón, a star since the early 2000s, was candid about the vocal troubles and mental setbacks that almost led him to retire in recent years. He said in the interview that he believed his voice was mended. But on Friday, his low range was weak and patchy, and even his higher notes had trouble carrying in the house.

Still, he sang honestly and energetically, and brought a charming blend of comedic antics and wistful yearning to his portrayal of this bumptious character who yearns for love — and finds it, eventually, with Papagena, here the sunny soprano Ashley Emerson.

On the podium, Glover balanced warmth and brightness, breadth and high spirits, and rightly received an enthusiastic ovation. When she made her Met debut in 2013 in this holiday “Magic Flute,” she was just the third woman to conduct at the company. This current run is her first time back.

Glover has worked with the Royal Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival in England, the Berlin State Opera, the Royal Danish Opera and other major houses. Isn’t it time for the Met to utilize her full capabilities?

The Magic Flute

Through Jan. 5 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan;

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