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Thread: Die Zauberflöte at the Cincinnati Opera

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  1. #1
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Die Zauberflöte at the Cincinnati Opera

    Performance of 20 July 2017
    Proctor and Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts

    Opera in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Libretto by Emmanuel Schikaneder

    Conductor: Christopher Allen
    Assistant Conductor: Levi Hammer
    Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
    Director: Daniel Ellis
    Production: Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky
    Animation: Paul Barritt
    Conception: 1927 (Suzanne Andrade, Paul Barritt) and Barrie Kosky
    Stage design and costumes: Esther Bialas
    Lighting designer: Thomas C. Hase
    Wig and makeup designer: James Geier
    Supertitles author: Floyd Anderson
    Production stage manager: Liam Roche

    Tamino: Aaron Blake
    Pamina: Kim-Lillian Strebel
    Papageno: Rodion Pogossov
    Sarastro/Temple Speaker: Tom McNichols
    Queen of the Night: Jeni Houser
    Monostatos: John Robert Lindsey
    Papagena: Jasmine Habersham
    Queen of the Night’s Ladies: Alexandra Schoeny, Cassandra Zoë Velasco, Amber Fasquelle
    Three Genii: Ashley Fabian, Abigail Hoyt, Paulina Villareal
    Two Armed Men: Brandon Scott Russell, Jacob Kincaide

    The big attraction here was supposed to be the Barrie Kosky/1927 production from Berlin’s Komische Oper – and it certainly is impressive. Colorful, very imaginative and creative, it imbeds the soloists in animated video projections that are inspired by a variety of influences, from silent films to Disney cartoons, a bit of ‘60s mod, a touch of sci-fi, and even a few suggestions of medieval spooks and goblins. There seems to be constant motion, to the extent that I finally just closed my eyes during “O Isis und Osiris” so that I could enjoy the music without the nonstop visuals. The Cincinnati Opera’s Facebook page ( will give you some idea of the imagery and animation. In a nod to the time before the “talkies” (the name 1927 of the creative duo Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt references the year of the first sound film, The Jazz Singer), the spoken dialogue has been replaced by a condensed version that appears as projected (English) text accompanied by excerpts from Mozart’s piano fantasias played on a pianoforte. Purists might object, but this approach had some obvious advantages with a cast that included only one native German speaker. There are more movie references in some of the costumes. In an interview with the director and production team that appears in the CO’s 2017 program book, Kosky mentions that Papageno is supposed to suggest Buster Keaton, while Pamina appears as a sort of Louise Brooks (actually, that dress reminded me more of Wednesday Addams). Monostatos bears a definite resemblance to the creepy vampire in the 1922 German film Nosferatu. Tamino sports a tux, Sarastro and his priests wear Victorian garb, and the Queen of the Night is an immense spider. (Black Widow?)
    In the midst of all that eye candy, the soloists still managed to hold their own. The finest performances came from Swiss soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel as Pamina, Jeni Houser as the Queen of the Night, and Rodion Pogossov – heard earlier this season as Marcello in La Bohème – as Papageno, though his German pronunciation could stand a little improvement. (That was also true of many of his American colleagues.) A member of the ensemble at the Freiburg Theater, Ms. Strebel has a beautiful lyric soprano that she uses with considerable taste and eloquence; Ms. Houser, who has an equally lovely voice, dispatched the coloratura passages in the Queen’s two arias with assurance. Tom McNichols displayed a sonorous basso profondo in his dual roles as Sarastro and the Temple Speaker. Though one never actually saw the latter, who was represented only by a disembodied voice, it seemed rather curious to assign these two characters to the same singer. It was almost as though Sarastro was vouching for himself in the exchange with Tamino – “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong; Sarastro’s really a good guy . . . “ Curious, too, was Mr. McNichols’ decision to end “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” on a low note rather than as written. Or was that conductor Christopher Allen’s idea? I also wished the Maestro had paced that aria a little slower to really bring out the beauty and dignity in that music. Aaron Blake, heard here a few years ago as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, sang Tamino with an attractive tenor, while John Robert Lindsey was an appropriately villainous Monostatos. Jasmine Habersham made the most of her brief appearance as Papagena, though she never showed up in her old crone guise in Kosky’s staging. The trios – the Queen’s Ladies sung by Alexandra Schoeny, Cassandra Zoë Velasco, and Amber Fasquelle, and the three Genii of Ashley Fabian, Abigail Hoyt, and Paulina Villareal – were excellent, and there was a fine pair of Armed Men in Brandon Scott Russell and Jacob Kincaide. Maestro Allen led a spirited account of Mozart’s score by the always-reliable Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, though I thought the brass sounded unusually prominent in the overture. This may have been just a result of where I was sitting – down toward the front of the orchestra section. To judge from the frequent laughter and enthusiastic applause, the audience had a marvelous time and acknowledged the performers with a standing ovation at the curtain call.
    Next year, the Cincinnati Opera will return home to the refurbished Music Hall, as well as its smaller venue, the Corbett Theater at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Prior to the start of yesterday evening’s performance, Artistic Director Evans Mirageas came onstage to give us a preview of the 2018 season. The always-popular La Traviata will be returning, this time with French soprano Norah Amsellem as Violetta, followed by Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer conducted by Christoph Perick; the U.S. premiere of Another Brick in the Wall, Julien Bilodeau’s operatic adaptation of the Pink Floyd album The Wall; Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea; and a fifth opera, the name of which didn’t sound familiar. (Guess I’ll find out about that eventually.) I’ll be curious to learn who the other principal soloists will be, though I have a hunch my hopes for a tenor Nerone in the Monteverdi will be disappointed. I’m not familiar with Pink Floyd’s music, but Mr. Mirageas assured us that the world premiere audience at the Opéra de Montréal absolutely loved Bilodeau’s operatic version. In any case, I trust Mr. Mirageas’ judgment, so I’ll go to next year’s performance and see/hear what all the excitement’s about.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Thanks for a great review - Komische Oper Berlin will be offering this Die Zauberflöte again next season, and am trying to see if I can squeeze it in during a winter trip next year.

    Although I love seeing top of the line singers, I am increasingly appreciating the ability of unknown singers to do a great job. Most of the operas we saw this summer featured largely unknown singers - many from eastern Europe and Russia. I shudder to think of the language lessons needed to subdue the slavic accent toward credible Italian, French and German pronunciation.

    I need to look toward a Cincinnati visit during the 2018 season to catch that adaptation of The Wall!!

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