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CurtainUp Guest Review The Solo Magic Flute

by David Lipfert

Editor's Note: While we remain a theater site, we're expanding our horizons, and we hope yours, by adding the occasional departure from our primary beat, Broadway and Off-Broadway Theater. The unusual and highly theatrical opera offerings at Tanglewood in the Berkshires and as part of Lincoln Center's Summer '97 Festival. seem a natural step away from our main path. We hope you enjoy these "extras" as much as we enjoy bringing them to you. E.S.

A star-studded deep blue curtain as wide as the stage is both backdrop and floor covering. A Steinway with the lid up and parked at an angle is set smack in the middle. The audience awaits Christopher Homberger to see how one man can perform the whole Magic Flute without tripping over himself in either pedantry or camp. A big-chested man in tux enters briskly to take charge of the proceedings.

After a few plunks on the piano to "do" the overture, Herbert Wernicke quickly begins the first scene alternating singing in his light, high tenor voice with humming the orchestra part. The cast is "international": Tamino has a pitiful American accent, the Three Ladies are clearly Swiss and the Queen of the Night is Slovak. In Herbert Wernicke's direction, all the standard poses for each opera cast member together with Mr. Homberger clever use of different voices ensure that there is never any doubt as to which characters are on this imaginary stage.

Mr. Homberger pulls himself on top of the piano bench now perched atop the closed piano. With an inverted glass ashtray on his head, the illusion of the Queen of the Night is complete. Opening the lid and shouting onto the piano strings is sufficient to make the voices from inside the temple assault us. In the Papageno/Papagena recognition scene, he runs from side to side of the Alice Tully stage to mark the approaching pair singing "Pa. . . Pa . . .Pa. . .." at each stop.

Some ideas, like sticking his big toe into a glass of water to represent one of Tamino's trials, are a stretch. A cigarette lighter almost works as a torch, but not quite. Still, the whole is carefully conceived for maximum amusement.

Infectious giggles start from Mr. Homberger's entrance for the overture right to the finale-the final chords hummed, of course. He punctures the balloon of pomposity surrounding the Mozart opera, deflating a near-religious gravity that die-hard admirers espouse. No aspect of the opera eludes his wit. Satire also implies love and admiration with a judicious touch of reality. As Anna Russell demonstrated, simply showing the reality of a typical opera performance is much more effective than an exaggerated farce.

The more familiar the audience is with the Magic Flute, the funnier this show becomes. German speakers should also find it hilarious. The performance lasts just over 90 minutes and is given without intermission.

Directed and designed by Herbert Wernicke
Starring-Christopher Homberger
Original German text for Mozart's Magic Flute"
U.S. premiere
Broadway at 65th Street (212) 721-6500
From: 7/14/97-7/18/97
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center Broadway at 65th Street, NYC

©right July 1997, David Lipfert, CurtainUp.

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