Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This production is never in danger of running off the rails, but The Magic Flute at its best requires a delicacy that is never present. What we have is Mozart conducted by Leonard Bernstein (somewhat romanticized) vs. the baton of George Szell (sharp and utterly classical), to choose two towering figures from the past. Maestro Mark Sforzini powers through, everything reasonably ship shape musically, but I never felt that this was his best work. In the famous overture the orchestra (32 strong) sounds a bit under powered, especially in the magisterial opening chords (E flat-C minor-E flat). I just wished for a little more charm and grace.
Stage director Michael Unger does a superb job keeping the story clear and understandable. The choice to sing in German with the spoken text (The Magic Flute is a singspiel) in English turns out to be a good one. The Masonic symbolism, always lurking in the background, is left therethose approaching the piece with deeper knowledge can find itbut unobtrusive for just following the basic plotting.
Our hero, Tamino, is sung by Todd Wilander with a nice ringing voice and handsome looks. He is not a natural actor. His voice has more metal in it than I am accustomed to hearing in a Tamino, and his bio shows some upcoming engagement in more heroic parts. Lara Lynn McGill, outstanding in last year's Tales of Hoffman, sings Pamina. Again, I am used to hearing smaller voices in this part, but aside from that, she sings and acts very well. Her second act aria (Ach, ich fuhl's) is gorgeous. Kelli Butler as The Queen of the Night nails all of the insanely high, high notes (4 F's above high C) and lets face it, this role is about those notes. Both of her arias are strongly sung, and like Beverly Sills famously joked, in between them she could stay backstage and address Christmas cards for next year.
Sarastro is strongly sung by Matthew Anchel, supplying the musical gravitas to anchor the story. Keith Harris in colorful plumage is a lively Papageno and opposite him Stephanie Jabre is a soprano Papagena. In featured roles Peter Joshua Burroughs as Monostatos, Kelly Curtain as 1st Lady, Robyn Rocklein as 2nd Lady, Laurel Semerdjian as 3rd Lady and Branch Fields as Sprecher (Speaker) all add to a strong ensemble. The chorus adds great sound to the mise en scène.
Maestro Sforzini continues to be a wonder, holding this complex opera together without being able to see his singers. So many of the numbers have five and six participants often singing in different directions. He leads a solid performance but without the special something that can make The Magic Flute delightfully special. St. Petersburg is blessed to get such a professional performance. The orchestra plays very well, with the winds especially lovely to listen to; the brass don't play a prominent part in this score.
Costumes by Glenn A. Breed are lavish lookingthey would do any opera company proud. Scenic design by Brian Prather is simple and highly effective with two staircases leading to an elevated platform center stage, which nicely frames the pageantry of Sarastro's Temple. Masonic symbols are embedded in the design. Lighting designer Keith Arsenault does capable work, but magical lighting design is possible for this opera, if the equipment were available.
While walking toward the Palladium Theater to attend The Magic Flute I saw a family with two young children, a boy and a girl, obviously going where I was going. Isn't it wonderful that St. Petersburg has an opera company that can put on a good production of this opera so that children can get a really early start toward becoming an opera fan?
St. Petersburg Opera presents The Magic Flute through February 6, 2018, at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg FL. For more information see www.stpeteopera.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):