Review: A Youthful Cast Excels in Los Angeles Opera “Magic Flute” – December 1, 2019

Six years ago I reviewed the Los Angeles Opera’s first performance of Barrie Kosky’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” [Outrageously Inventive, Unceasingly Entertaining – Kosky/Andrade /Barritt’s Silent Movie “Magic Flute” Wows L. A. – Los Angeles Opera, November 23, 2013]. As before, the spoken dialogue is cut and the arias and recitativo accompagnato passages ase sung in the original German. The audiovisual aspects of the production are described in my previous review, which still serves as my comments on Kosky’s “silent film” production.

In the six years since that performance, several new Mozart operatic artists have emerged, four of whom sang the principal roles of Tamino, Pamina, Papageno and the Queen of the Night. This review will concentrate on their performances and those of the other “live” performers.

Bogdan Volkov’s Tamino

Russian tenor Bogdan Volkov proved to be an extraordinary Tamino, exhibiting a controlled vibrato, sweet lyric voice and exquisite phrasing to Tamino’s opening aria Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön.

[Below: Bogdan Volkov, who sings Tamino; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from ]

Almost all of the opera’s action revolves around Tamino – his quest to find Pamina, his increasing self-awareness, the tests he undergoes and his ultimate victories. Volkov was a vocally and dramatically strong presence in the role, a prerequisite to any successful performance of the opera.

[Below: Tamino (Bogdan Volkov) finds himself in an unpleasant situation; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Zuzana Marková’s Pamina

Czech lyric coloratura soprano Zuzana Marková arrived in Los Angeles with an established reputation in iconic roles such as the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

[Below: Zuzana Marková was Pamina; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from

As Pamina, whose hair was bobbed in the 1920s hairstyle popularized by silent screen starlet Louise Brooks (the subject of Julian Fellowes 2018 television drama The Chaperone), Marková was enchanting. The lyric beauty of Marková’s voice was especially affecting in Pamina’s soulful aria Achich fühl’s.

[Below: Zuzana Marková as Pamina, whose costume is an homage to silent screen star Louise Brooks; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Theo Hoffman’ Papageno

New York baritone Theo Hoffman has a pleasing lyric baritone and witty comic style that assured an engaging Papageno, the character with whom most audience members identify.

[Below: Theo Hoffman was Papageno; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Hoffman was a spirited Papageno. Even though the Kosky production’s highly choreographed movements inhibit the spontaneity that many artists performing Papageno enjoy, one can see (and hear) that Hoffman is a natural for this role.

[Below: Theo Hoffman as Papageno, whose costume is an homage to silent screen star Buster Keaton; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Sarastro

The celebrated Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is always an exciting performer, both vocally and dramatically.

This is the third Mozart role that I have seen d’Arcangelo sing at the Los Angeles Opera [See Stylish Production, Fine Cast for “Cosi fan Tutte” – Los Angeles Opera, September 18, 2011 and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Roguish Libertine, James Conlon’s Impressive Conducting, in Insightful “Don Giovanni” – Los Angeles Opera, September 22, 2012.]

[Below: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo was Sarastro; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

D’Arcangelo is noted for such high-testosterone roles as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Escamillo in Bizet’s “Carmen”. The role of Sarastro – especially the Sarastro of Kosky’s production – is an unusually static character for D’Arcangelo, but he sang each of Sarastro’s famous arias impressively.

[Below: Sarastro (Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, upper left ) tries to correct the excesses of his security staff; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.

Jeni Houser’s Queen of the Night

Wisconsin soprano Jeni Houser, who was covering another soprano as the Queen of the Night, took over the role for remainder of the run when illness caused the withdrawal of the originally cast artist.

Although I had seen Houser’s performances in small roles at the Minnesota Opera and two of New York’s Glimmerglass Festivals, this was my first performance in which she assumed a principal role. She performed the queen’s two bravura arias skillfully.

Below: Jeni Houser, here as Johanna in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”; edited image of a production photograph, from

Houser’s performance, and her upcoming New York Metropolitan Opera debut in this role, confirm that she is in the early years of an important career.

[Below: the spider web in which the pursuers of the Queen of the Night (whose face is seen at top) are entangled; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Other Cast Members

The three ladies were enchantingly sung by (1) Rhode Island soprano Erica Petrocelli, (2) Colorado mezzo-soprano Vivien Shotwell (Los Angeles Opera debut) and (3) North Carolina mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven.

The villain Monostatos was sung with appropriate malice by Virginia tenor Frederick Ballentine. New York baritone Michael J. Hawk sang the enlarged role of the Speaker (into which two other priest roles were merged) with distinction. Georgia soprano Sarah Vautour was a lively Papagena. Californians David Kakuk, Thomas Quinn Fagan and Anika Erickson were the Three Spirits.

Massachusetts tenor Robert Stahley and California baritone Steve Pence were impressive as the Two Armored Men. Among the performance highlights were their sturdy duet and the Armored Men’s subsequent ensemble assuring Volkov’s Tamino of his ultimate success.

Maestro Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus and the Production Revival Team

California Maestro Grant Gershon, who joined the opera company ten years ago, has served as Resident Conductor since 2012. This was his first performance of this season’s run of “Magic Flutes”, taking over the reins for the later performances from Los Angeles Opera Music Director Maestro James Conlon.

Maestro Gershon led an impassioned performance by the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, with a brilliant reading of the intricacies of Mozart’s famous overture.

The creative team who assisted Director Barrie Kosky in 2012 for the original production at Berlin’s Komische Oper was represented by English director Suzanne Andrade and Welsh Animation Designer Paul Barritt. German director Tobias Ribitzki was the Associate Director. German designer Esther Bialas created the Scenery and Costumes.

The Kosky “Magic Flute” production of, now a co-production between the Los Angeles Opera and Minnesota Opera, has been performed in three of the past seven Los Angeles Opera seasons [See also Beautiful Singing from a Silent Screen “Magic Flute” – Los Angeles Opera, February 24, 2016]. A consequence of a production that departs so radically from the performance tradition is that newcomers to opera may have little experience with how the opera is “normally” staged. (I was startled when a couple sitting next to me, having established that I was reviewing the opera, asked if this opera was always performed as a silent film.)

My recommendation to opera-goers, both veteran and new to the art form who have not seen the Kosky production, should do so, recognizing that it departs significantly from all other existing productions of this operatic masterwork.