The Matchbox Magic Flute Review – Utterly Charming

(Back, L-R) Russell Mernagh and Keanon Kyles. (Front, L-R) Billy Rude and Marlene Fernandez
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Recently, I was expressing to a friend my love of all things miniature, be it a model train, a bite-sized brownie, or a Dungeons and Dragons figurine. With The Matchbox Magic Flute, now in its world premiere production at The Goodman Theatre, director Mary Zimmerman has created a kind of miniature version of Mozart’s beloved opera. It’s no surprise, I think, that this scaled-down presentation surprised and delighted me in the same way as so many other itty-bitty things.

(Standing, L-R) Tina Muñoz Pandya, Lauren Molina, Monica West and Russell Mernagh. (On ground) Billy Rude

The Magic Flute tells the romantic tale of Prince Tamino, who falls in love with a portrait of the Queen of the Night’s daughter, Pamina, and seeks to rescue her from her captor, Sarastro. Tamino is accompanied on his journey by the birdlike Papageno, who seeks a love of his own and whose chattiness often gets him into trouble. Along the way, the characters experience emotional highs and lows, from the giddiness of first love to the despair of being parted from said first love. It’s a dramatic story, but a deeply human one, with a balanced mix of humor and sincerity. It’s no wonder this tale has endured for as long as it has.

(L-R) Tina Muñoz Pandya, Shawn Pfautsch, Reese Parish, Emily Rohm, Monica West and Lauren Molina

Traditionally, opera is an art form full of grandeur: huge sets, elaborate costumes, and multitudinous cast and orchestra members are par for the course. Here, Zimmerman successfully strips the story down to its essentials without losing any of the fun of spectacle or richness of the music. Five musicians and ten cast members are all it takes, it turns out, to tell this tale. Billy Rude shines as Prince Tamino, cutting a noble but nevertheless relatable figure as he tries to prove himself worthy of his love. Marlene Fernandez is an enchanting and believable Pamina, with a singing voice that absolutely sparkles. Shawn Pfautsch is completely lovable as Papageno, with impeccable comedic timing, and Keanon Kyles’ resonant bass voice brings a needed gravitas to Sarastro. Perhaps the best performance of all, however, is that of Emily Rohm as the Queen of the Night; her stunning voice and commanding stage presence elevate her two scenes to among the best in the entire show. 

(L-R) Russell Mernagh, Dave Belden and Emily Rohm

Just because this is a smaller production doesn’t mean it skimps on aesthetic. Scenic design by Todd Rosenthal is beautiful down to the smallest detail, using relatively few elements to create a wide variety of locations. Costumes by Ana Kuzmanic are gorgeous as well, particularly Pamina’s delicate yellow gown and the Queen of the Night’s striking black and red ensemble. The music is also wonderful, both the genius behind Mozart’s original composition and the brilliant work of music adaptor and arranger Amanda Dehnert and Andre Pluess. Music director and conductor Paul Mutzabaugh must also be applauded for exceptional work leading the orchestra.

(L-R) Marlene Fernandez, Keanon Kyles, Lauren Molina and Reese Parish

The Matchbox Magic Flute is utterly charming. Mary Zimmerman has led the cast, orchestra, and design crew to create something totally delightful from start to finish. The English translation and scaled-down approach to the story help make this classic opera accessible to modern audiences, and even those unfamiliar with the opera world will find much to love here.

Ticket Information

Location: The Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street

Dates: February 10 – March 24, 2024

Tickets: $35 – $105. Available now at the Goodman Theatre’s website or by phone at 312.443.3800.

All photos by Liz Lauren.

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