The idea of the subtext -- the notion that there is a set of meanings implied rather than explicitly stated in a literary or dramatic work -- represents depths from which the sirens sing to the best-intentioned directors and critics.
Count Roger Brunyate, the brilliant director of Peabody's Opera Theatre, as their most recent victim. His production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which opened Thursday in Friedberg Hall, is filled with so many brilliant ideas that it sinks beneath the weight of its insights.
This is said in sorrow rather than in anger: Brunyate is correct in his perception that Mozart's fairy tale sublimates all manner of Oedipal conflicts; he is right to see that the Queen of the Night represents sensuality and anger that must be rejected if humankind is to find peace; he is on target in his suggestion that Papageno and Monostatos are doppelgangers of the hero, Tamino; and he is absolutely wrong in staging a production that so emphasizes all of this that the opera is shorn of its charm. So heavy is Brunyate's interpretive hand, for example, that when Monostatos sings about his desire for Pamina, it is Tamino who fondles the heroine. This results in an opera by Brunyate -- not a very good one -- with incidental music by Mozart.
If one is accustomed to much better things from Brunyate, one can say something similar about the normally sane and dependable Frederick Prausnitz, who led the orchestra at often impossibly slow tempos, making matters difficult for singers and players alike.
Under other circumstances, Timothy Bentch might have proved a more than competent Tamino. But in his first aria, for example, Prausnitz's tempos made it impossible for him to stay on pitch and sustain his phrasing. Even Laurie Hungerford Flint, a beautiful-looking and -sounding Pamina, was not able to support her voice under this kind of pressure in her great second act aria.
As in any Brunyate production, much of what transpired was beautiful. His singers moved and acted well and recited the superb dialogue -- written by Brunyate -- impressively. There were striking Edwardian sets (by James Fouchard) and costumes (by John Lehmeyer). And in Thursday's cast (which will be repeated tonight) there were several impressive voices. Besides Flint's Pamina, the best of them were Jeffrey Buchman's comically vibrant Papageno and Charmaine Hamann's agile Queen of the Night.
The production will be repeated at 8:15 tonight and Sunday at 3 p.m.