Die Zauberflöte

The Metropolitan Opera on Friday, December 15.

A week or so ago, I commented on how strange and creepy the story of The Nutcracker is—and I stand by that—but I have to admit The Nutcracker has nothing on Die Zauberflöte. With its clandestine order of monks, irrepressible bird-people, supernatural children, numerous melodramatic suicide attempts, and wild allusions to Masonic secrets and Zoroastrian mysticism, Die Zauberflöte is kooky even by operatic standards.

As such, it is well-suited for Julie Taymor’s distinctive, over-the-top direction. Taymor echoes the libretto’s hodgepodge of plot devices and references with a symbol-smothered rotating stage and costumes inspired by everything from geishas to Kabbalah to hip-hop.

At times, the jumble of imagery and ornamentation annoyed me (particularly when the stage crew noisily shifted the set during one of Sarastro’s arias), but I couldn’t help but appreciate the way the kaleidoscopic dazzle of the production kept the mustiness of age away from Mozart’s gleefully un-elite singspiel. No one could ever relegate the opera to a museum piece while enormous bears straight out of The Lion King dance to the beat of the music. If Taymor’s production is busy and cluttered (and it is), then so is Die Zauberflöte itself, charmingly so.