A full moon was rising over Tel Aviv. In the Ganei Yehoshua amusement park people were screaming with the thrill and the terror of a large ferris wheel and a bungee-like ride that dropped them in a cage that bounced up only to drop and bounce again.
Across the road, in Hayarkon Park, what seemed to be a party or a wedding reception was getting under way with utsa-utsa music. And next to that a seemingly endless number of people defied gravity by streaming uphill and then flowing down toward the enormous stage for the annual Opera in the Park; this year’s offering was Mozart’s Magic Flute, performed by the Israeli Opera. Tel Aviv was doing what it does best: enjoying life’s gifts in every way possible.
While the audience waited for the opera to begin, giant screens on either side of the stage offered up a cultural feast in miniature: a preview of dance, music, and theater performances scheduled for the “city that never stops.”
And as he does every year, Mayor Ron Huldai introduced the performance. Then—displaying a talent he has had since childhood—he pulled out a recorder and played a theme from the opera.
What followed were two magical hours of gorgeous melodies and ravishing stage sets. The Magic Flute is in the form of a singspiel, including spoken and sung dialogue. Much of the dialogue was cut in this performance, but it seemed that no one missed it. After all, the music and the spectacle are what set one’s heart on fire.
Bambi Friedman’s sets, using video to the hilt, were outstanding. In the opening scene in a children’s room, a TV screen showed animated penguins dancing to the overture; later, “real” penguins danced on the stage. And when the Queen of the Night appeared atop a giant bat with terrifying red eyes, a host of video bats with similarly scary eyes flapped their way across the stage. But the most beautiful use of video was a scene with time-lapse photography, in which winter-bare trees blossomed and then gradually lost their leaves again.
Papageno, the sly bird-catcher, was played as a comic figure by tenor Guy Mannheim with great charm; at one point he walked offstage into the audience to show off his panpipes. The Queen of the Night is a role notorious for its difficulty, requiring the soprano to reach the very high F6 repeatedly. The soprano (unfortunately there were no programs at this free performance and I did not catch her name), was suitably dramatic, breezing through those impossibly high nights with aplomb. And the three child-sprites who guide the prince Tamino through his many trials were surprisingly good.
The opera is said to be an allegory in which enlightened absolutism is pitched against obscurantism; that is, it is an ode to reason and humanism. But the message that rang out clearest for me, from the very beginning when Tamino and Papageno are provided with a magic flute and bells to protect them, is that music (especially Mozart’s) is the best protection against evils of the spirit.
Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.