Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ Recast As Grim Fairy Tale: Jeremy Gerard

Malia Bendi-Merad and Raphal Brzmard in the Lincoln Center Festival presentation of "A Magic Flute." Photographer: Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival via Bloomberg

There are more reeds, of the bamboo variety, than flutes and also precious little magic in Peter Brook’s fantasy-parched “A Magic Flute.”

The production, trimmed down to 90 minutes, is the opening presentation of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York

Brook, who once put Shakespeare on trapeze and introduced Western audiences to “The Mahabharata,” conjures only a smidgen of Mozart’s playfulness.

More evident is the wistfulness of age in this spartan production. Brook, 86, recently retired as head of the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, his Paris base since 1974.

He’s best known locally for dropping Bizet’s doomed gypsy into a sand pit on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater, and allowing “La Tragedie de Carmen” to unfold as a bleak noirish tale of lust, violence and fate.

This “Flute” is similarly spare. No orchestra, just an onstage piano, and nine actors in Helene Patarot’s modest costumes (no feathers for Papageno, that’s for sure) flitting about the bamboo rod pick-up-sticks piercing the stage.

Paring down layers heightened Carmen’s tragedy. It seems misguided for a tale as taken with its non-essentials -- a love-starved bird catcher, a wily serpent -- as it is with the larger, darker mystery of Zoroaster and the desperate vengefulness of the Queen of the Night. Mozart here is nearly drained of fun and the comedy is mannered, while the deeper territories go unexplored.

Thomas Dolie and Dima Bawab are adorable in the surefire comic roles of Papageno and Papagena (there are alternating casts for the two-week run). Malia Bendi-Merad negotiated the Queen of the Night’s treacherous aria with confident restraint.

Indeed, the entire production was marked by a lack of flashiness, though Adrian Strooper made a powerful impression as the inflamed prince, Tamino. The thrill is undersold in “A Magic Flute,” as are stronger motifs and motivations. I left hungry.

Through July 17 at the Gerald Lynch Theater, 10th Avenue near 58th Street. Information: +1-212-721-6500; Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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