Opera Review

A Sumptuous Magic Flute at BMC

July 3, 2008 - Brevard, NC:

Sumptuous costumes, hot air balloons, mechanical ducks, swan boats, one very long serpent, and two birds of a feather in a prolific nest — these are some of the visual delights awaiting those who attend the Brevard Music Center's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute on July 5. Directed by David Gately, new Director of the Janiec Opera Company, and conducted by Steven Smith, the opera is presented in German with English dialogue and supertitles. Copious program notes on the opera provided by Kay Hoke demystify the opera for those unfamiliar with its Masonic rituals.

Starring in lead roles were Jermaine Jackson, Tamino; Ted Federle, Papageno; Lara Ciekiewicz, Pamina; Alison Hicks, Queen of the Night; and Brian Wehrle, Sarastro. The Three Ladies were Denise Crawfort, Nicole Rodin, and Ilene Pabon. The roles of the Three Boys were also sung by women: Mary Martin, Lindsay Reigel, and Rebecca Henry. Monostatos was sung by Andrew Coniglio.

Mozart's opera of 1791 is a Singspiel, a genre of popular entertainment combining musical numbers and vernacular dialogue, and frequently set in far-away places. The opera's overture encapsulates the dual planes of musical thought — one serious, the other light-hearted — thus preparing the listener for a musical experience to be enjoyed on many levels. (Lest one miss a few key moral truths preached within the opera, penned scripts in German were unfurled in this production to reinforce the sung messages.) Mozart's friend, actor and playwright Emanuel Schikaneder, not only crafted the libretto but also sang the first performance of the bird catcher Papageno.

The production certainly had many high points. The costumes (designed by Glenn Breed) are spectacular, and it looked as though no expense was spared. I learned that the Queen of the Night's bejeweled gown was encrusted with Austrian crystals. The Three Ladies were "on" all night, singing with assurance, and even a little attitude. The Three "Boys," often produced as solemn guiding spirits, were a rollicking, full-of-themselves trio costumed as pilots in leather jackets and goggles. The coloratura Queen of the Night executed her spine-shivering arias "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!" ("Oh tremble not, beloved son!") and "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" ("The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart") with gravity-defying bravura. Crowd-pleaser Papageno was a gifted comic actor as well as a wonderful singer. His stuttering, palpitating duet with Papagena in their nest ("Pa-Pa-Pa-Papagena!") brought the evening's loudest laughs. Most consistently mesmerizing and dramatically compelling was Ciekiewicz as Pamina; she brought the house down with her heart-wrenching "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist entschwunden" (Ah, I feel that all is gone) from Act II, scene 17.

In an open-air venue such as Whittington-Phol Auditorium, there are inevitably some annoyances with ambient noise, such as cars leaving the parking lot, and, unfortunately the distant barking of a dog as counterpoint to one of the solemn scenes with the Priests. The sound system needs attention, as one speaker kept cutting in and out. The cast was uneven in their singing and acting prowess, and more work is required to move students away from the "park and bark" performance mode. Some of the numbers dragged once they'd begun. However, gaining experience is what the Center is all about, and watching the burgeoning musical development of these young professionals is as fascinating as the production itself.

This summer Brevard Music Center has programmed not only two other complete operas (Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado and Mark Adamo's Little Women), but also two additional evenings of opera scenes (July 23 and August 9), the latter a first, according to Gately. This attests to the company's growing stable of singers and the need for additional opportunities to show them all off.

Note: The Brevard Music Festival continues through August 10. For details, click here.