|Manhattan Opera Studio's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte|
Not all summer training programs take place in Europe. Some are right here in New York City. Manhattan Opera Studio attracted a lot of students from out-of-town for their Summer Festival. Students applied by audition and those accepted received month-long coaching and master classes, with an opportunity to appear in a fully staged role with orchestra.
A few days ago we reviewed their Hänsel und Gretel and last night we returned to the National Opera Center to hear Die Zauberflöte, Mozart's delightful singspiel. The work premiered in 1791 and is replete with references to Freemasonry, which was practiced by both Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, who sang the role of Papageno. Sarastro represents the values of The Enlightenment--reason and wisdom. His nemesis, the Queen of the Night, represents emotionalism and hysteria. Do we see the sexism here?
Mozart composed the delightful music with concern for the varied vocal abilities of his cast. Allowances were made for those less experienced or less gifted, whilst great challenges were presented to the famous singers who were cast as the Queen and Sarastro. There was also some variability in the artistry of the cast we heard last night.
There were no allowances made for the orchestra and Maestro Keith Chambers led a spirited performance from the reduced orchestra which played Bryan Higgins' fine reduction of the score. We always listen for the glockenspiel, so well played here by Lucas Barkley.
The opera was performed in German and everyone in the cast deserves props for their linguistic skills as well as their singing. Certain singers made a big impression. Conrad Schmechel is a stage animal and created a marvelous version of Papageno, the opera's representation of the "common man", happy with food and wine and a wife. Fortunately he was awarded the delightful Papagena of Laura Schachner who had little stage time but has a sit-up-and-take-notice style about her. Mr. Schmechel was reviewed last summer in Opera Breve's Carmen.
Taylor Surratt made a fine Tamino with lyrical line and a princely bearing, representing the man who is amenable to reason, changing his mind when confronted with new information. His "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" was especially fine. As his beloved Pamina, Kathleen Norchi sang with sincerity and a lovely line in "Ach, ich fühl's".
The incredibly difficult role of the Queen of the Night was well performed by Xi Lyu. Her revenge aria "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" was even better than her "O zittre nicht mein lieber Sohn". Her fiery delivery was just right.
Christian Ohlenschlaeger's Sarastro would have benefitted from some more forceful acting. We have always found Sarastro to be a pompous and not very likeable character, but he must be firm in gesture and voice.
Eamon Pereyra, whom we havea heard before, handled the vocal demands of Monostatos perfectly well but is just too sweet looking to convince us of the character's evil nature.
The Three Ladies (Ashlee Woodgate, Kailee Miranda Mhoon, and Olivia Ottinger) harmonized beautifully. We wish that Stage Director Lisa Nava had gotten them to relate to one another more. As a matter of fact, there were several instances in which other characters sang directly to the audience instead of to each other. This should be easy to correct and would make the performance work much better.
We always love the Three Spirits; the three lovely young women who sang them (Brittany Stetson, Mary McKinnis, and Maya Davis) managed to sound like three boy sopranos which made them inordinately appealing.
Although sung in German, the spoken dialogue was in English; everyone spoke clearly so not a word was lost. The chorus also did very well. Duets and ensembles were all well balanced.
There were no sets and no props which allowed the audience members to use their imagination. We borrowed bits and pieces from our memory including a particularly vivid memory of a production seen years ago in Bregenz, Austria, in which the action took place on a large floating stage in the middle of Lake Constance and the serpent came up out of the lake!
We liked the lighting which dimmed for the major arias, allowing the singer to perform in a spotlight. We also liked the costumes which were basic but effective.
The orchestra played on one side of the room with the audience seated on the other side. The effect was somewhat less than stereophonic but is one of those compromises made on Planet Opera where we desperately need a small opera house with an orchestra pit.
There will be another performance at The National Opera Center Sunday at 6:30 and Flute lovers who hope to attend will be well advised to reserve tickets. Last night was standing room only. Sitters and standees were equally enthusiastic in their standing ovation for the singers.
(c) meche kroop