We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


The Three Spirits:  Lorenzo Jordan, Cecilia Antonelle and Elizabeth Sharp
If you read this in time you can still see New York Opera Exchange's charming production of Mozart's Magic Flute Sunday at 3PM at All Souls Unitarian Church.  You will thank us for the recommendation.  Artistic Director Justin Werner, Musical Director Alden Gatt and Director Andreas Hager are responsible for bringing this work to the stage with a fresh spirit that left the young audience smiling and enlightened as to what opera can be.  It thrilled us to see several hundred young people filling the acoustically excellent church and enjoying themselves so much.

We do not mean to imply that Mr. Hager has burdened the familiar work with a far-out unworkable concept; rather he has mounted a traditional production with thought-provoking psychological insight.  Pamina, sung by the always excellent and beautiful Margaret Newcomb, is a troubled child of divorced parents who, at one point, is ready to kill herself until the three adorable spirits pictured above dissuade her with gorgeous harmony and persuasive words.

Father Sarastro, well sung and acted by bass-baritone Javier Ortiz, is pompous, controlling, self-righteous, sexist and insufficiently protective of his daughter, leaving her vulnerable to the amorous advances of Monastatos, tenor Victor Starsky.  Mother Queen of the Night,  high-flying coloratura soprano Julie Norman, has the advantage of having earned her daughter's love and being eager to help her to a worthy husband; she dispatches the importunate Monastatos with a wave of the hand, injuring him exactly where potential rapists should be hurt.  But, she is undone by her vengefulness when she tries to get Pamina to kill her father.

Instead of casting Tamino as a tall handsome prince, he is seen as a chubby pubescent boy (fine tenor Joseph Palarca) who is still playing with stuffed animals at bedtime.  But when he falls asleep his dream-life is filled with the characters of the opera as he enters the phase of life called "growing up". 

If there is a star-turn in the opera, it is the Papageno of Paull-Anthony Keightley, an Australian baritone who knows just how to use his expressive face and flexible body to create an original version of this lovable character. The "birds" he catches are girls!   He shows Tamino a Playboy centerfold, thus providing the impetus for the boy to shift his attention from stuffed animals to a beautiful girl.  Not to worry about bringing the kids; this centerfold is fully dressed!  Happily, Papageno gets his Papagena at the end, the lovely soprano Anna Richardson.

From here on in, Tamino continues on his journey to young adulthood, armed with his rescue fantasy.  With the help of Papageno, a gift-wrapped magic flute and magic bells, and the guidance of the three spirits, he is able to find the girl of his dreams and endure the trials that will lead to his enlightenment.  To be a man, he must learn to be steadfast, silent and patient.

The three ladies (lots of threes appear in this Freemasonry-inspired tale with libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder) are very nicely sung indeed by sopranos Amanda Matson and Jennifer Russo with big beautiful Helena Brown taking the mezzo part.  Their voices are superbly balanced creating gorgeous harmonies.  Bass-baritone Victor Clark took the role of the Speaker and Scott Ingham distinguished himself as an Armored Man whose tenor soared above the orchestra.

Not only were all the singers first-rate but the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, comprising 31 astute musicians, were guided into a performance Mozart himself would have approved.  We would be remiss not to mention the principal flutist A. Lish Lindsey.  Magic flute indeed.

Costumes by Joel Yapching were clever.  Papageno was dressed like Tony the Tiger; Tamino wore odd pajama pieces, Pamina wore a black corset and sheer skirt, the Queen of the Night had an other-worldly headpiece, Monastatos wore white athletic gear, and the three young spirits were dressed as school kids with back packs.  We were puzzled that Papagena had a feathered cape and cap when Papageno bore no feathers.  We also wondered why the members of Sarastro's community all wore dark glasses.  There was a scene in which donning the dark glasses symbolized enlightenment; this seemed rather counter-intuitive.

Set design was by Lucas Womack and could not have been more simple--just a bed for Tamino to fall asleep on and later for Pamina to occupy in the room in which she must fight off Monastatos.  The pulpit and the stairs leading up to it were employed as needed.  German diction was mostly good and, if you were German speaking, you could definitely understand without the titles.

We understand that this singspiel was originally created by a talented troupe in a low-rent theater and made a big hit.  Well, we are happy to report that in over 200 years talented small companies are still doing the same thing!

© meche kroop

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