We took in a performance of Magic Flute in Santa Fe last night. We had a lightening show courtesy of Zeus through the first act and I'm tempted, somewhat uncharitably, to mark that down as the most exciting part of the show.
It wasn't bad, really, the performance. It was actually pretty good: well-schooled singers with a sense of what they were about; a coherent (if spare) staging (of which see more infra). But I can't say it was especially memorable--not the sort of thing you would want to fly 800 miles for.
It was also, not trivially, essentially the same staging they'd used four years ago. The set, although it worked well enough, must be one of the cheapest to mount and remount I've ever seen in a major house. Also, perhaps more of a problem, four years ago as Pamina they had Natalie Dessay. This year they offered Ekaterina Siurina in a Santa Fe debut, and while she did a creditable job, you kept remembering that she wasn't Natalie Dessay (Mrs.Buce said she thought that Siurina and her Tamino, Charles Castronovo, were more interested in making love to the audience than to each other which is not a good thing). As if to rub it in, Joshua Hopkins, reprising the Pagageno he played four years ago, came costumed in a tee-shirt from the 2006 production--the audience got the joke.
Oh, and empty seats. Not a lot, but noticeable. So you have to wonder: the weather? The lack of a marquee star? The repeat of the same staging? The competition of HDTV? And economizing on set and star--is this part of the solution, or part of the problem? Whatever: if you're a destination venue, you have to have enough to make people want to scrub their calendars and stump up for plane fare and hotels. Just ordinary isn't going to do it for long.