The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), Singspiel in two acts
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Johann Emanuel Schikaneder
Première: Theater auf der Wieden, Vienna, on September 30, 1791
Co-production by the San Francisco Opera Association, Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Opera Carolina
This review is for the Opera Carolina performance of January 19, 2013, at the Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, in Charlotte, NC. The show will run again on January 24 at 7:30 PM and January 27 at 2 PM, tickets [here]
Conductor - James Meena
Orchestra - The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
Chorus - The Opera Carolina Chorus
Stage Director - Garnett Bruce
Set/Costumes/Prop/Projection design - Jun Kaneko
Lighting Design - Michael Baumgarten
Cast (in order of appearance)
Tamino - Shawn Mathey - read his Opera Lively interview [here]
First Lady - Diane McEwen-Martin
Second Lady - Melinda Whittington
Third Lady - Daidree Tofano
Papageno - Kyle Pfortmiller - read his Opera Lively interview [here]
Queen of the Night - Maria Aleida - read her Opera Lively interview [here]
'First Boy - Alexandra Engle
Second Boy - Margaret Tyler
Third Boy - Erica Powell
Monostatos - Julius Ahn
Pamina - Yunah Lee - read her Opera Lively interview [here]
The Speaker, First Priest, Second Man in Armor - John Fortson
Sarastro - Tom McNichols
Second Priest, First Man in Armor - Noah Rice
Papagena - Kathryn Frady
Opera Carolina put the magic back into The Magic Flute. Not that Mozart didn't have it there, but the old Met production had turned it into something a bit stale. Then, we've been treated in the last few years to imaginative and visually striking productions, including the new one at the Met, the M22 in Salzburg, and certainly this one by Jun Kaneko, for a consortium of five American opera companies, including our very own Opera Carolina.
It is a deep pleasure for me to see the Belk Theater sell out, and to hear the wows of the audience at each stunning visual detail. It shows the vitality of opera in America, and the viability of regional opera, when it is done as competently as Opera Carolina always does.
Before I address the musical aspects of tonight's performance, allow me to dwell a bit more on the visual aspects of this astonishing show. We are facing exquisite artistry. The sets and costumes are attractive, smart, and flexible. The clever use of projections on five large panels at the back of the stage sets the emotional tone of each scene, with nuances such as the following: when in an ensemble a character is gloomy while another one is elated, part of the panels are purple on the side of the discouraged character, while they are bright yellow on the side of the optimistic one. Transitions occur constantly as the moods shift - if something somber is being sung, the projections progressively acquire darker colors and start being invaded by wormy black lines. Generally the projections, props, and costumes are multicolored and fun, with use of cute elements such as polka dots.
This is all so beautiful that only pictures will accurately convey what I'm trying to explain above, so let me include here five production pictures credited to San Francisco Opera, and kindly sent to us by Opera Carolina:
Mr. Kaneko was present, and received a long standing ovation from the public in curtain calls, with several shouts of "Bravo!". Well deserved, Mr. Kaneko. This is opera design at its best, and it is delightful to know that our favorite regional opera company was part of the consortium that commissioned this.
Lighting didn't have much to do given that most of the light and focus came from Mr. Kaneko's installations and projections themselves, but certainly when it was needed, it didn't disappoint.
Stage direction and blocking were rather perfect, and able to harmoniously deal with the large number of characters plus chorus in this opera. Particularly effective was the appearance of Papageno and Papagena's anticipated offspring. The kids who were acting in these non-singing roles were extremely cute (especially with their little wings), and the blocking had one of these little creatures lingering behind and then suddenly taking off, to great comic effect.
I confess that I'm prejudiced against opera in translation, and this performance was sung in English, with English surtitles. My beef with this practice has significantly decreased after attending this show. The translation worked very well and was carefully done (Maestro Meena modified himself the existing usual Schirmer English translation, to adapt the words to Mozart's original German sounds).
Acting was variable. While Kyle Pfortmiller is an incredibly talented actor, Yunah Lee is a fine one, and Julius Ahn also did very well, I can think of some other artists in this cast whose acting was a bit less accomplished. My companion and I found that Tamino could have been a bit more soulful, and the Queen of the Night could have been more terrifying (well, Maria Aleida is a very sweet person; she may have some trouble portraying witches).
Hospitality, efficiency in moving people along to their seats, and general organization of the evening were impeccable as usual for this very professional opera company.
Now, for the all-important musical aspects.
The chorus was phenomenal. In my opinion, one of the ways to gauge the quality of a regional opera company is to verify whether or not they have a good chorus (therefore, whether they pay them well, have little turnover, and get them to be helpful to the other elements of an opera). Well, Opera Carolina is just such a company. They have a very good chorus.
Conducting was first class as usual, when Maestro Meena is at the helm (and he was this time; however he won't conduct The Pearl Fishers which is what Opera Carolina will be doing next; he'll be missed, although I'm sure he'll find a suitable replacement). He kept good control of his forces - the excellent Charlotte Symphony - and demonstrated once more how he is attentive to the singers (in two occasions I noticed him slowing down the tempo because a singer was being less than agile in some difficult passages).
In my opinion Kyle Pfortmiller and Yunah Lee were the two best singers tonight. They both possess good projection and can be heard easily at all points of the theater. Their voices have beautiful timbre. Yunah has been cast a lot as Madama Butterfly (over 100 times), and while her portrayal of the unfortunate geisha is simply excellent (I've seen it live), tonight she gave proof of how versatile she is, and how she should be getting other roles as well. Her Pamina was phenomenal! Kyle stole the show and was a pleasure to see and listen to, throughout the performance.
From where I was (orchestra center, row O) I couldn't hear very well Tom McNichols, who subbed for another singer who withdrew for reason of illness. His voice hit the right notes but his projection was a bit thin. Shawn Matthey was a nice Tamino although I would have wanted a bit more vibrancy - this however is probably more related to acting than singing, since Shawn is a very fine singer. Maria Aleida sang well the first aria of the Queen of the Night. The three ladies exhibited comic flare and good singing. Monostatos by Julius Ahn was by far the best comprimario.
This was a soirée of very entertaining and well produced opera. I watched the entire show with a smile on my face. Therefore, I don't hesitate in granting to this production my "Highly Recommended" endorsement.
Readers, even though tonight's performance sold out, there are still tickets available for the other two dates, and this show is not to be missed!
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