It was Mozart, it was High Camp and it was "The Magic Flute." Somehow it all fit together in the Washington Opera's new production of one of the most puzzling of all operas, which opened last night at the Kennedy Center. And I have never had as much fun at any "Flute."

From the moment that conductor Max Rudolf began the overture, it was clear that Mozart's music was going to be well served. And throughout the evening the music came through strong and clear. But from the first decorative curtain, it was also clear that this was to be a "Flute" that took you right back to the days when Mozart played jokes on Emanuel Schikaneder, the man who wrote the book and who was the first Papageno.

There is lots of horseplay on stage. A baroque balloon boat sails up and down across the stage, delivering passengers in the best Monteverdi/Cavalli manner. And there are burlesque carryings-on by the lecherous Monostatos. But remember that Mozart, when he was playing the glockenspiel in the wings, delighted in not playing when he was supposed to, and playing when he was not supposed to, leaving poor Schikaneder/Papageno high and dry.

It was a "Magic Flute" that could easily confuse anyone who expected profundity, great ceremony and the grand gesture -- none of which appeared. There were no priests in long white robes, nor did Sarastro come out looking like Ramfis in "Aida." The priests of the temple looked more like good solid burghers of Williamsburg, Va., than anything else. As the second act began, they stood around making like real-life Masons, putting together a brick wall with real masonry.

This "Flute" lasts longer than most because Andrew Porter's superb English translation includes a lot of dialogue that is usually not heard. But this unfamiliar dialogue throws light on many episodes that are otherwise cloudy or totally inexplicable.

And what about the singing? It is nearly always capable, but rarely more. There is a grand hero in the Papageno of William Parker. Famous for the role in Vienna, he takes over the stage with the ease of a master. His singing is richly textured, colored to suit every measure and phrased with elegant breadth. His acting is pure delight, and he won the evening's warmest ovations.

Bunched together for good singing with artistic style are Alan Kays' Tamino, Karen Hunt's Pamina, Sally Wolf's Queen of the Night and Steven Cole's Monostatos. None offered great Mozart, but they all fitted into a fine ensemble, though Wolf had trouble keeping the queen's agile phrases clean and accurate.

Richard Cross moved into the role of Sarastro on short notice. His voice sounded opaque, as if he were singing over a heavy cold. The three ladies in waiting were well done by Elizabeth Knighton, Emily Golden and Alteouise De Vaughn. And the three genii, though often nearly inaudible, were fun to watch as done by Berkeley Jeffress, Stephen Kamman and Dominic Keyes. David Bankston and Dale McKinley were excellent as the armed men, referred to in the program as Guardians of the Temple.

Patricia Ernest laid it on a bit thickly as Papagena in her old-woman disguise, but was a pleasure when she turned up young and pretty.

Frank Corsaro's staging was full of brilliant invention, nearly always on the mark. It matched the vivid imagination of Maurice Sendak's designs, which were realized by Neil Jampolis. The chorus and orchestra served Rudolf faithfully to give Mozart resonant beauty and style. 'Magic Mozart'; Washington Opera Flaunts the 'Flute' By Paul Hume Washington Post Staff Writer

It was Mozart, it was High Camp and it was "The Magic Flute." Somehow it all fit together in the Washington Opera's new production of one of the most puzzling of all operas, which opened last night at the Kennedy Center. And I have never had as much fun at any "Flute."

From the moment that conductor Max Rudolf began the overture, it was clear that Mozart's music was going to be well served. And throughout the evening the music came through strong and clear. But from the first decorative curtain, it was also clear that this was to be a "Flute" that took you right back to the days when Mozart played jokes on Emanuel Schikaneder, the man who wrote the book and who was the first Papageno.

There is lots of horseplay on stage. A baroque balloon boat sails up and down across the stage, delivering passengers in the best Monteverdi/Cavalli manner. And there are burlesque carryings-on by the lecherous Monostatos. But remember that Mozart, when he was playing the glockenspiel in the wings, delighted in not playing when he was supposed to, and playing when he was not supposed to, leaving poor Schikaneder/Papageno high and dry.

It was a "Magic Flute" that could easily confuse anyone who expected profundity, great ceremony and the grand gesture -- none of which appeared. There were no priests in long white robes, nor did Sarastro come out looking like Ramfis in "Aida." The priests of the temple looked more like good solid burghers of Williamsburg, Va., than anything else. As the second act began, they stood around making like real-life Masons, putting together a brick wall with real masonry.

This "Flute" lasts longer than most because Andrew Porter's superb English translation includes a lot of dialogue that is usually not heard. But this unfamiliar dialogue throws light on many episodes that are otherwise cloudy or totally inexplicable.

And what about the singing? It is nearly always capable, but rarely more. There is a grand hero in the Papageno of William Parker. Famous for the role in Vienna, he takes over the stage with the ease of a master. His singing is richly textured, colored to suit every measure and phrased with elegant breadth. His acting is pure delight, and he won the evening's warmest ovations.

Bunched together for good singing with artistic style are Alan Kays' Tamino, Karen Hunt's Pamina, Sally Wolf's Queen of the Night and Steven Cole's Monostatos. None offered great Mozart, but they all fitted into a fine ensemble, though Wolf had trouble keeping the queen's agile phrases clean and accurate.

Richard Cross moved into the role of Sarastro on short notice. His voice sounded opaque, as if he were singing over a heavy cold. The three ladies in waiting were well done by Elizabeth Knighton, Emily Golden and Alteouise De Vaughn. And the three genii, though often nearly inaudible, were fun to watch as done by Berkeley Jeffress, Stephen Kamman and Dominic Keyes. David Bankston and Dale McKinley were excellent as the armed men, referred to in the program as Guardians of the Temple.

Patricia Ernest laid it on a bit thickly as Papagena in her old-woman disguise, but was a pleasure when she turned up young and pretty.

Frank Corsaro's staging was full of brilliant invention, nearly always on the mark. It matched the vivid imagination of Maurice Sendak's designs, which were realized by Neil Jampolis. The chorus and orchestra served Rudolf faithfully to give Mozart resonant beauty and style.