We were in DC for a few days and, while there, we went to a performance of The Magic Flute (performed in English, not German) at the Kennedy Center. The performers were excellent, and they obviously had fun "updating" the script here and there. The costumes were very good, as was the sound. The set design was rather unusual; the implementation of their design was excellent, but I'm not sure what I thought of the design.
There was a short (optional) lecture before the show, which I'm very glad we went to. Here we learned some of the historical background for the show; while most operas of the time were written for aristocrats and in Italian, this one was written for a for-profit theatre catering to "just plain folks". It's more accessible and less hoity-toity. I don't know what's original to the script and what was added by this performance, but this had more of the feel of (high-end) street theatre in some ways, including humorous wordplay and some physical comedy. It also has spoken dialogue, so it felt kind of like a modern musical.
The story (very briefly; click the link for more): Tamino is recruited by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the evil sorceror Sarastro. She sends with him Papageno, a nutty bird-catcher who dresses as a bird and really only cares about wine, women, and song. (Tamino has nobler goals.) It turns out that Sarastro isn't so evil, and he kidnapped Pamina to save her from her (in his opinion) evil mother the queen. (At this point I expected it to turn out that Sarastro was the father, but no.) Tamino (who has fallen in love with Pamina) will be allowed to wed her if he passes certain mystical trials, and Papageno has to play too because he's there -- but ok, if Papageno behaves he'll also be allowed to wed Papagena, who seems a perfect fit for him, solving his "can't get women" problem. Trials happen (with bumps along the way) and there's a happy ending. (Oh, the flute? The queen gives it to Tamino as a magical aid and he uses it to get through some of the trials. Really, for something that makes the title of the show, it's kind of minor.)
Papageno provides a lot of comedic relief and the performer was very good. (It may be harder to do that kind of role well than that of a serious character like Tamino.) Sarastro was also very good as both actor and singer; he struggled a little with the lowest note, but Wikipedia tells me it's an F2, so I can understand that. (Deep bass.) Tamino and Pamina were well-done; I wasn't as impressed with the queen of the night and Papagena (both sopranos).
There were obvious adjustments in both the dialogue and the lyrics; the former is easy to do but the latter would seem to require a little more work. One of Papageno's songs included references to Twitter, and there was a bit of dialogue where somebody tells the three spirits (played by children) that they'll understand something better when they reach adolescence. (There were other changes too, but you get the idea.) I enjoyed these tweaks, though it made me wonder what is actually in the original script to begin with and whether it included hooks for this sort of thing.
The orchestral score was done well and mostly acted as support for what's going on on stage (as opposed to taking center stage itself, which I understand sometimes happens). The score did not strike me as overly complex; it was a good solid score, performed well.
The set design was rather abstract; backgrounds of colored lines and swirls at times, sometimes suggesting a setting (like "night" or "inside a temple") and other times not. There was one point where the background had animated circles/elliptoids moving around to no clear purpose and I found it a little distracting; I don't know what that was meant to be. There was also an opening number (before anybody was on stage) where they had animated lines moving around on a screen for several minutes, which left me wondering why. (It was only once the show proper started that I would realize that this was part of their overall design.) Lighting design (beyond this) was generally pretty good, though the follow-spot operators were sometimes a little off in tracking the leads. (The leads almost always had spots on them, even when the stage was brightly lit. I don't know if that's typical.)
A word about visual aids:
This was only my second (live performance of an) opera (excluding Gilbert
& Sullivan, if you count that), and
the first was a dismal failure because it was in Italian, we were sitting too
far back for me to read the supertitles, and having read the plot synopsis
in advance hadn't been enough to really follow it. So this time we splurged
on the second-best class of tickets (the price point for the best tripped
our "you've got to be kidding" alarms). I mean, it's the Kennedy Center;
it's likely to be good, and how often are we going to do this? Data point:
the second-best class of tickets, which put us four rows back in the first
balcony, allowed me to just barely read the supertitles about
three-quarters of the time. (So I definitely missed some jokes, including,
I later learned, a Twitter hashtag.) And this opera was in English, so I
had extra input. (Operatic sopranos and children are a loss; I can't
understand what they're singing regardless of language. The male leads
were better, and there was a good
So, it looks like it's only viable for me to go to an opera if we get seats
up close; I doubt I'll bother again.