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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 7 years ago

Music Review: Sarasota Opera: 'Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)'


If you look at the G. Schirmer vocal score of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (“The Magic Flute”), you’ll see that it has only 167 pages of music. Yet some productions can seem interminable. Fortunately, the one presented by the Sarasota Opera positively flew by.

First, the pacing was swift, starting with the well-known overture, played beautifully by the Sarasota Opera Orchestra under the direction of Robert Tweten. It took a sprightly speed — faster than I usually like, but certainly valid and stylish.

Then, Allison Grant’s stage direction was such fun there wasn’t a moment of static or tedium. It is hard to enchant us these days with puppets and pageantry thanks to video productions, but Grant used her performers to bring out their attributes — and this cast had many.

“Die Zauberflöte” is a Singspiel, complete with spoken dialogue, and because the Sarasota Opera chose to present it in the original German, it called upon the young American cast to speak, as well as sing, the language. All the performers sounded so right, so Germanic in their singing and speaking.

Of course, anyone who’s read Dan Brown’s recent thriller, “The Lost Symbol,” was probably getting even more from this work than the average opera-goer because Mozart, a Mason, has woven so many Masonic rites and themes throughout his opera, it helps to have an inkling of the secretive sect in order to understand why there are so many sets of three’s. There are three ladies, three boys, three slaves, and so many references to the honorable character of men as opposed to women and such an emphasis on ritual and mysticism.

But, putting all that aside, “Flute” is probably one of Mozart’s greatest works, weaving magical music with mystical mortals, larger-than-life royals and priests, adorable animals and cunning creatures from dragons to mortals that believe themselves immortal.

It’s easy to take “Flute’s” story, impose a 21st century morality on it and characterize it as racist and anti-women. But, put into the context of Mozart’s life and time — along with that of his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder — and you come out with a charming fairytale that honors truth, judgment and wisdom above all. Seen and heard through 18th century Masonic eyes and ears, this Singspiel is a perfect morality play with good triumphing over evil. There are many moral and psychological questions bandied about, from whether Sarastro, the high priest who represents good and is played by a basso, is really Pamina’s father, to The Queen of the Night, representing evil, played by a coloratura soprano. Oh, there are so many intricacies to this score both musically and morally, we could go on forever. But let’s deal with the performances.

Many of the roles in this production were taken by studio, apprentice and Youth Opera artists, and they were all superb. Abla Lynn Hamza, Sarah Asmar and Alissa Anderson (all Studio Artists) were standouts as the Three Ladies, especially Hamza, whose voice soared with a clear beauty that made us want to hear more from her in solo parts in the future.

The Three Spirits, written for three boys, were sung by Youth Opera girls: Amanda Capps, Mary Akemon and Maria Elena Arrate, with precision and the purity of sound only young singers can provide.
Katherine Werbiansky, an apprentice, was an adorable and vocally vibrant Papagena; studio artists Mathew Edwardsen and Jonathan Moots made voluble Men in Armor; and John Tsotsoros made an extra-evil Monostatos. Andrew Darling was a beautifully voiced Speaker.

Young-Bok Kim, who seems to be making a profession of playing Sarastro, managed to be both earthly and godly with good, solid acting and an elegant bass that is growing stronger with each appearance. Joshua Kohl, as Tamino, was believable and beautiful of voice and demeanor through every ensemble piece but had a slight edge to his high notes in both of his big arias.

Lindsay Ohse took on the treacherously stratospheric role of the Queen of the Night with vengeance, navigating most of the notes above the staff with success. And Maria D’Amato made a compassionate, silvery-voiced Pamina, leaving no doubt about her goodness and purity.

— June LeBell

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