DALLAS -- Among other things, The Magic Flute is a comedy, and that element loomed very large in the Dallas Opera's production of Mozart's musical fantasy on opening night.
I have never heard as much loud and sustained laughter in an opera performance as that from the clearly captivated audience in the Winspear Opera House.
Part of that is due to the 220-year-old and yet timeless libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. A large part of it was due Friday night to the Papageno of Patrick Carfizzi, a natural-born comedian. Other ingredients were supplied by director Matthew Lata, whose clever ideas were often original and always in the spirit of the piece.
One shouldn't neglect to mention the projected translations, which were fought by traditionalists years ago but are now an accepted device for keeping the audience connected to what is going on onstage. A quarter-century ago, there wouldn't have been nearly as many laughs.
Of course, The Magic Flute is very much about singing and instrumental music-making, and in that the Dallas Opera's production is in good shape. The cast was a little uneven, but there were no losers.
In addition to his gift for comedy, Carfizzi has a strong and attractive bass-baritone voice, and he supplied a significant part of the musical pleasures opening night.
Soprano Ava Pine's Pamina was a delight to the ear. Her moving performance of the aria Ach, ich fühl's -- one of Mozart's loveliest -- was one of the evening's high points.
Shawn Mathey displayed a pleasant lyric tenor voice as Tamino, though the character seemed a little bland in contrast to that of the spirited Papageno -- a hazard inherent in the role.
In a certain sense, the other two principals, bass Raymond Aceto as Sarastro and soprano L'ubica Vargicová as the Queen of the Night, made similar impressions in their very different roles. Each could handle the extremes -- the Queen of the Night very high, Sarastro very low -- but they seemed a little cautious.
The rest of the cast supported ably. Among them were David Cangelosi (Monostatos); Angela Mannino (Papagena); Caitlin Lynch, Lauren McNeese and Maya Lahyani (the Three Ladies); and Kevin Langan (the Speaker).
Conductor Graeme Jenkins led a spirited and considerate-of-the-singers performance by an orchestra that was in fine form. There was one awkward episode in which the Three Genii and the orchestra went out of sync, but that may have been due to placement (the Genii were far back on the stage) and interference with line of sight.
Jörg Zimmermann's fantastical sets, Renate Kalanke's costumes and the enhancement of Duane Schuler's lighting did much to set the magical atmosphere of the production. The pyramid references were traditional, but the rest of the imagined world was not. The production, owned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, seems to be making the rounds, like Carl Toms' once ubiquitous Peter Grimes.
Lata's stage direction, which had a lot of children onstage, was full of clever tricks, even bringing the text projection into the act once (Papageno looks up to check it out). Purists shouldn't get too huffy about this sort of thing; at the premiere in 1791, Mozart himself played some tricks on the glockenspiel, luring Papageno into some ad-libbed comedy.