I’ve seen Julie Taymor’s “Lion King,” and maybe that was when my enthusiasm for musicals had just started to flag, but I remember thinking, “Eh.” But Taymor’s production of “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met is MAGICAL. It’s like Maurice Sendak meets Tim Burton meets Tutankhamen, but better, even. Nothing suits this opera more than shiny plexiglass geometry and mysticism. And puppets. I never really got what the big deal was with the puppets until the giant skeletal goose flew out of the wings carrying the three child spirit-guides and took my breath away. And then the bears came out and did their funny, at-once menacing and mirthful dance. But the birds: the birds might be Taymor’s best creation, ever.
I’m so, so thrilled the Met’s finally doing a real rush-ticket program. Why shouldn’t opera be a populist amusement? It was reassuring to look around the Met and see it packed on a Monday night — and not just with grey-hairs, but kids my age, who laughed unreservedly in all the right places (Mozart/Schikaneder would make a great modern-day sitcom writing team. Though that might be insulting, since they would no doubt transcend the form or totally blow it away) and applauded enthusiastically for the Queen of the Night’s dizzying arias and Papageno’s utter silliness. The singers, incidentally, I thought were only okay, as far as Met casting goes. Papageno and Pamina were by far the best; the others were lackluster. And it was like the Queen of the Night was saving it all for her (many) high notes — while those high notes were spot-on crystal clear and just beamed out across the hall, the rest of her performance was sort of muted. (When she first piped up, I thought: no way is she going to hit the high notes.)
Overall, though, the performances did the job. But it’s everything else that makes this special. I wish I had kids I could take to this thing.