The Magic Flute
Steeped in Masonic philosophy, The Magic Flute is Mozart's most abstract opera. It therefore can lend itself to a variety of interpretations. For the opening of its 2013-14 season, Boston Lyric Opera is presenting its own interpretation, consisting of a new production and original concept for the opera---as well as a completely new English translation of Emanuel Schikaneder's German libretto.
Stage director Leon Major and designer John Conklin have set the work in a Mayan ruin about to be explored by a student archaeological team. A love triangle from among the group is revealed during a break in the overture, a pre-echo of the Tamino/Pamina/Monostatos dynamic about to unfold. As the work commences, the team members become characters in the opera itself, which plays like a dream. This visionary concept is certainly valid when one considers the many mystical and fantastic elements of the work. As the production closes, the scene reverts back to reality and the present, with the romantic conflict resolved.
The new English lyrics ranged from being clever to puerile, containing sufficient laughs to keep the audience entertained. The costumes for the "human" protagonists consisted mostly of street clothes, while those of the mythic characters were wonderfully fanciful. The sets had only the vaguest semblance of Mayan influence, but were colorful, and functioned nicely. Singing entirely offstage, the BLO chorus soundly stately in Mozart, and contributed some of the most dead-on singing of the evening. Conductor David Angus led the performance with characteristically brisk tempi. Even the slower paced moments like the "Bei mannern" and "Ach, ich fuhl's" had a forward propulsion, and never lagged. Assorted kinks in the orchestral playing will hopefully be smoothed out in subsequent performances.
The lapses in pitch and difficulty with florid passages that characterized some of the solo singing were ample proof that, despite its deceptive simplicity, Mozart's music requires singers of a very high caliber to do it true justice. However, the youthful cast assembled for this production did improve as the evening unfolded. This was certainly the case with tenor Zach Borichevsky, who sang the role of the hero, Tamino. In Act 1, his voice was pinched and harsh in its upper register; but by the second half, it sounded fuller and more expressive. Unless realized by a top-notch singer/actor, the role of Tamino can come off as a somewhat cardboard figure. Sadly, Mr. Borichevsky did little to enliven the character.
The same was true of baritone Andrew Garland, who was cast as the merry bird-catcher, Papageno. The incredible charm and naiveté of the character was absent from his performance. However, with his resonant, firmly focused baritone, he was the most vocally secure of the entire cast. David Cushing's resplendent basso is always a pleasure to hear; but on this occasion he sounded wobbly and edgy in spots. Of all the male singers, Neal Ferreira, as the villainous Monostatos, turned in the most passionate singing of the evening.
Like her beloved Tamino, the Pamina failed to make much of an impression until Act 2. Deborah Selig possesses a lovely soprano sound, but it lacked focus and security in the first half. Thankfully, it blossomed as the second act unfolded, and she floated some beautiful sounds. For her vocal pyrotechnics as the Queen of the Night, coloratura So Young Park received the biggest ovation from the opening night audience. She was quite good in the Act 2 "Die holle rache," having had difficulty negotiating the rapid passagework in her only other aria, the Act I "O Zittre Nicht."
Performances of this respectable, but un-magical "...Flute" run through October 13 at the Shubert Theatre. In BLO's exquisite, new program book, one can find the roster for the entire season. This year's Opera Annex production is Beeson's "Lizzie Borden;" and, in 2014, local opera-lovers can look forward to Verd's "Rigoletto" and Bellini's Bel Canto masterwork, "I Puritani."
Remaining performances of The Magic Flute are October 9, 11, 13m, 2013 at the Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information visit the Boston Lyric Opera website.