Despite Inclement Weather and Staging Compromises, Cleveland Ballet’s ‘The Magic Flute’ Delivers Modicum of Artistic Magic [REVIEW]

Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Ballet.

Cleveland Ballet – The Magic Flute
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
Akron, Ohio
Saturday, October 17, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Adopting the adage “the show must go on,” Cleveland Ballet’s dancers braved forty-degree weather to perform their new production of The Magic Flute outdoors at Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens on October 17. Using stage side heaters and a warming tent for the dancers that helped to mitigate the cold and possible injury, the company also did its best to perform the expansive story ballet on a 20’ x 20’ stage that was a fraction the size needed for it.  

Initially the 88-minute production was supposed to premiere with full staging at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theater this month before the global pandemic hit. Not willing to forego the hard work that went into creating the production over many months, artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe modified it by cutting back on production elements such as sets and lighting as well as cast members and some dancing to have it a part of their recent Outside The Box tour performed at select area wineries and Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.

Rather than creating a new version of choreographer Lev Ivanov’s obscure 1893 The Magic Flute ballet with music by Riccardo Drigo, Guadalupe opted to base her ballet instead on Mozart’s more famous opera.

Danced to a fabulous recording of the opera by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Guadalupe did her best to interpret the rather convoluted storyline told in the opera that at its heart a love story between Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina. For her ballet, she employed the use of narrator Lily Sargent to help make sense of the 2-act comedic ballet and introduce its bevy of characters that all crammed onto and around the stage in the ballet’s opening scene.

Set in Egypt (rather than what the opera calls “a mythical land between the sun and the moon”), the ballet progressed through scenes telling the story of Pamina (Kaela Ku) who was being held prisoner by the high priest Sarastro (Rainer Diaz) and her mother, the sinister Queen of the Night (Maddison Campbell) who commands Tamino (Christian Gutierrez) and his newfound companion the birdcatcher Papageno (Covington Pearson) to go and rescue her if he is to marry Pamina.  

Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Ballet.

Guadalupe’s choreography for these initial scenes and throughout the ballet served to primarily tell its story. There was little filler or grand group dancing sections. Following the story being sung, the remainder of the ballet played out Tamino’s quest to rescue and marry Pamina and the trials the pair had to go through along the way. For the most part the ballet did what it set out to in a pleasantly digestible way for a general audience. The dancers were well-rehearsed and overall performed well especially Campbell, who exuded a powerful wickedness as the Queen of the Night, Diaz, who had a commanding stage presence as the high priest, and Miss Ku whose technically clean and graceful performance as Pamina was a budding star revelation.

Less successful were stop-pose sections in the choreography that caused the action to lag including transitions between steps that felt like the long preparatory glide of a figure skater across the ice before a jump, some of the acting and attempts at humor came off as juvenile by the mostly young and inexperienced cast and forgivably, a of the dancer’s performances such as Gutierrez as Tamino, felt flat.  

Admittedly, to really take the proper measure of this production, it needs to be seen as it was intended on a theater stage with all its accoutrements. The dancers having to wear necessary protective masks also did not help in their conveying expression and emotion. As an audience member seated in Stan Hywet’s Great Meadow however, even this scaled back version of the production had enough magic to make it well worth braving the cold for.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.