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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Jana McIntyre, Christopher S. Lilley, and Lisa Barone

Paull-Anthony Keightley

There was a great deal of fun to be had at Manhattan School of Music last night when Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (actually a singspiel) was presented with an excellent cast, featuring star-making turns by bass-baritone Paull-Anthony Keightley as Papageno, one of Planet Opera's most endearing characters, and soprano Jana McIntyre as Queen of the Night.  We have seen Mr. Keightley's Papageno before at New York Opera Exchange and it would be fair to say that he owns the role. As adept at comic timing as he is talented at singing, his shtick kept the audience in stitches.

Ms. McIntyre is new to us but we definitely want to hear more of this compelling coloratura whose vocal fireworks were marked by accuracy and artistry. The rapid-fire embellishments came across without any slurring; every note was well articulated.

As Prince Tamino, tenor Christopher S. Lilley sang with a plush tone and enviable legato; he never pushed for his top notes. His romantic partner, Princess Pamina, was given a fine portrayal by Addie Hamilton who has a lovely sweet soprano; she articulated the embellishments nicely.

As Sarastro, bass Shi Li presented a solid tone with depth of coloring. We only wished that the lines he spoke in English were as clear as the German that he sang. As The Speaker, bass Scott Russell left nothing to be desired.

We always love the Three Ladies as they argue over who gets to stay behind and watch over the unconscious Prince. Last night, sopranos Alaysha Fox and Kelsey Fredriksen and mezzo Lisa Barone were superb and their trio was exceptional.

We were also quite taken with the Three Spirits, here portrayed by EphiGenia Kastanas, Crystal Glenn and Hannah Dishman as three giggly prep school boys. Their trio is marked by gorgeous harmonies.

As the evil head servant Monostatos, K'idar Miller captured both the malice and the humor.  His face-off with Papagena was hilarious.

Soprano Carina DiGianfilippo made a perky Papagena without making as much out of the role as one would hope. Her speaking voice when she approaches Papageno pretending to be an old lady was nothing if not irritating and sounded more like a screech owl than an old woman.

The chorus was exemplary and much credit goes to Chorus Master Miriam Charney.  We'd also like to give props to Diction Coach Marianne Barrett. When we don't need to read the titles we know whom to credit!

The production was an adventure in and of itself and required explanation by Director Jay Lesenger in the program. It was helpful to learn in the pre-performance lecture that the audiences of 1791 did not expect their "magical operas" to make sense.--helpful because we have been trying to make sense of this opera since the first time we saw it.  So, the fact that Mr. Lesenger's production did not make much sense did not interfere with our enjoyment.

We appreciated the additional English dialogue however. We were also tickled by the notion that Pamina and Papageno were half-siblings. Moreover, that the Queen of the Night was enraged because her late husband turned his power over to Sarastro, which fueled her wish for revenge.  And we always thought she was a good woman trying to protect her daughter!

There were directorial choices that, while fun, seemed to make even less sense than other productions. The production team went for a 1960's look with a touch of sci-fi thrown in.  The monster slain by the Three Ladies was a robot. The priests in the temple were wearing identical suits and ties, sitting around a table in a board room, leaving us to wonder how corporate America could be a symbol for Reason, Nature and Wisdom!

Within the parameters of the setting, the costumes by B. G. Fitzgerald were apt with special compliments for the black and silver creation for the Queen of the Night. The simple set by Steven Capone and Ron Kadri comprised an eye-catching 7-pointed gold star and large discs in gold and silver which were raised and lowered to symbolize the ascendancy of lightness (wisdom) over darkness.

George Manahan did his customary excellent work leading the MSM Orchestra. Mozart's profusion of melodies is notable for limning each character. He wrote this work as a favor for his friend the impressario and singer Emanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto and played the role of Papageno. We have no way of knowing how he played it but we'll happily settle for Mr. Keightley.

Should you wish to share the joy, the same cast will perform the Sunday matinée and on Friday night a different cast will take over. We were fortunate enough to hear a few members of that cast perform during the pre-performance lecture and found tenor Oliver Sewell to be a fine Tamino; soprano Eunmi Park did a splendid job of revealing the Queen of the Night's subtle changes of intention.

And if you can't snag a ticket we urge you to watch Ingmar Bergman's magical film of Die Zauberflöte, filmed in 1975.

(c) meche kroop

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