Julie Taymor Blows a Breath of Fresh Air Into The Magic Flute


The simple fact that Julie Taymor is launching her first Metropolitan Opera production next month should cause a box office ruckus not only from the opera crowd but also from those wise in the ways of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater, not to mention art movies and art TV. Taymor’s best known in New York for films like Titus and Frida, and musical plays like Juan Darien and The Lion King. Then again, what nonsense! There aren’t any other stage pieces or films like those.

Her Met project is many people’s favorite opera, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). This magical opera mixes vaudevillian comedy, romantic adventure, and Masonic ethics that are quite off-putting to some. But the mixture works so seamlessly that some directors and designers are tempted to overemphasize one aspect at the expense of another.

Those familiar with Taymor’s talent—no, genius—for taking spectacular fantasy and powerful situations to workable extremes might well wonder how she’ll balance this opera’s dramatic colors, or if indeed she’ll forgo balance for either total monumentality or total fun.

And how will she handle Zauberflöte‘s notoriously sexist attitude toward women? The Masonic priests here, however kindly and beneficent they are to the leading couple, Pamina and Tamino, are nevertheless a snotty bunch when they scorn what they call women’s foolishness. Yet it is Pamina who leads her hero, Tamino, through their trials of fire and water and then to their wedding. By the way, word has it that, besides regaling us with her usual but always surprising flying creatures, Taymor has devised nasty costumes for the Queen of the Night and the other bad people.

My feeling is that the director will put the sexism of Emanuel Schikaneder’s otherwise charming libretto in its proper corner. And her musical sophistication won’t let her interfere with a bright cast of singers as conducted by the masterly James Levine.

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is in performances October 8, 11, 15, 18, and 21 (the last one conducted by Julius Rudel, another wonderful Mozartean); further shows next April, Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000.


September 23, 27, October 1, 4, 7, 14, and further performances in January

Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

The Met revives Elijah Moshinsky’s monumental production of Verdi’s tragic masterpiece. Ben Heppner tests his strong tenor voice and acting talent as the Moor, and the radiant Barbara Frittoli is Desdemona. James Levine conducts, electrically.


October 21, November 11, and December 3

Miller Theater, Columbia University, Broadway and 116th Street, 212.854.7799

Conlon Nancarrow, the 20th-century pioneer, gets a memorial retrospective with older and newer composers set up in tangents. On October 21, the Bugallo-Williams Duo places some of his two-piano music against Stravinsky’s piano-duo arrangement of The Rite of Spring. On November 11, musicians from Alarm Will Sound play chamber music of Nancarrow, Bach, and Ravel. December 3 brings the superb Christopher Taylor in piano solos by Bartók, Ligeti, Adams, Ives, and guess who.


October 25

Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, 212.247.7800

James Levine makes his first New York appearance as this orchestra’s new boss by conducting that vast forest fire called Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. The singers include several Met headliners, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and the American Boychoir.


October 31, November 3, 6, 9, and 11

New York State Theater, Columbus Avenue and 63rd Street, 212.307.4100.

It’s the world-premiere run of the brilliant Charles Wuorinen’s frisky, witty 12-tone opera based on Salman Rushdie’s delightful but cautionary little novel about a war-winning little boy.


December 2, 6, 11, 15, 18, 22, 27, and more in January

Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

The radiant Renée Fleming and Stephanie Blythe head a totally expert cast in the Met’s first attempt at Handel’s famous romance. Stephen Wadsworth, a wizard at this sort of opera, directs in his company debut.


December 10

Low Library Rotunda, Columbia University, 116th Street east of Broadway, 212.854.7799

Columbia’s Miller Theater presents this superb choir in religious music by Palestrina, Isaac, Lassus, and others.


December 15-18

Riverside Church, Riverside Drive and 122nd Street, 212.875.5656

The highly talented Alan Gilbert conducts half the New York Philharmonic, four fine solo singers, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir in Handel’s indestructible oratorio.


December 16-18

Avery Fisher Hall, Columbus Avenue and 65th Street, 212.875.5656

Sir Colin Davis, masterly as ever, conducts the other, non-Messiah half of the orchestra in a program that features Britten’s short, vivid monodrama Phaedra, with the heart-piercing mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who also sings a big aria from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. The program is framed by Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony and Haydn’s “Drumroll” Symphony.


December 17, 21, 25, 29, and January 12

Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 64th Street, 212.362.6000

The fiercely emotional and vocally shining soprano Karita Mattila sings her first Met performances of Janácek’s tormented slave to illicit love. Jonathan Miller staged the opera chillingly and rightly.