Pittsburgh Opera’s The Magic Flute a Colorful, Magical Delight
By George B. Parous
Last night, a good-sized audience at the Benedum heard a classic example of why Mozart’s melodious The Magic Flute has enjoyed enduring popularity since 1791. The production Pittsburgh Opera is presenting through November 14 is colorful and fun, loaded with talent, and aroused hearty enthusiasm that reached a level rare for a Pittsburgh audience. Everyone concerned with the performance deserved the rounds of applause that rang throughout the evening and came in an avalanche at the final curtain. The festive atmosphere of “magic” on both sides of the stage was palpable.
The Three Ladies (First Lady, Madeline Ehlinger; Second Lady, Corrie Stallings; Third Lady Maire Therese Carmack) gag Papageno (Benjamin Taylor) with a magic apple as a punishment for lying
The production moves at a snappy pace and is not weighed down by the old-fashioned multiple scene shifts or any serious, clumsy attempt at the librettist’s zany menagerie that this opera sometimes suffers. The minimalistic set designs by John Pollard, and the varied and colorful costumes by Leslie Bernstein, are effectively enhanced by the lighting of Andrew Ostrowski and projections designed by Doug Provost. Director Dan Rigazzi deserves much credit for the finely tuned masses of principals, chorus, and “supes.” Much dry ice and some impressive thunder and lightning effects take care of the rest. The musical side of the production is in excellent hands.
Tamino (David Portillo) charms some wild animals (members of the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus) with the magic flute
Antony Walker conducted the orchestra through a brilliant rendition of the score. If one couldn’t peer into the pit and see the instrumentalists, it would have been easy to imagine from the start that a favorite studio recording of the overture was being piped into the house. The orchestra’s high level of precision and glorious tone lasted through to the final note. And it was a great treat to see and hear the wonderful chorus under the direction of Mark Trawka once more.
Sarastro (Tom McNichols) promises to free Princess Pamina (Adelaide Boedecker), just not quite yet
Tenor David Portillo, as Tamino, poured out his role in warm, rich tones, a seamless legato, and with a fine sense of dynamics in both his singing and acting. As the very harmonious Three Ladies, Madeline Ehlinger, Corrie Stallings, and Maire Therese Carmack sang with such keen insight into Mozart’s music that the results were nothing short of astonishing. Benjamin Taylor gave to the character of Papageno a baritone voice more appealing than ever and a marvelous comedic flair that was a revelation for those familiar with the serious roles he’s done for Pittsburgh Opera in the past.
Papagena (Véronique Filloux), and Papageno (Benjamin Taylor) envision a future with their flock of children
Kathryn Bowden was a youthful and pleasant-looking Queen of the Night. She sang with a silvery sweet soprano capable of firing off the role’s famous staccato pyrotechnics with great ease and abandon. As Pamina, Adelaide Boedecker was a welcome addition to the cast, singing her part with confidence, charm and a soprano voice of velvety quality and quantity – in a spot or two with a bit much of the quantity, but not to the extent that her performance was marred in any way. That Véronique Filloux would be an ideal Papagena was a foregone conclusion, and she didn’t disappoint, either in the screeching crone moments or in the enchanting, charming phase of the character. Her singing and acting of the part was one of the highlights of the evening.\
Tom McNichols, as Sarastro, made an impressive first appearance despite the fact he seemed to be laboring under a sporadic disadvantage. His bass voice didn’t always seem completely under his control, but there were impressively vibrant passages when it was. Jeremy Harr, as the Speaker, was the Resident Artist I was most looking forward to hearing “unmasked.” As I suspected, there is a bass voice of fine quality, quantity and resonance, much more at his command when unencumbered, and in both sung and spoken passages, his voice rang through the vast auditorium very tellingly. Rodell Rosel, in the part of Monostatos, played the comic villain with a sense of fun and made the most of the role’s musical opportunities.
Papageno (Benjamin Taylor) is looking for love in all the wrong places
Zoë Chessa, Helen Peppler, and Abigail Cunningham, all newcomers, were the three “Spirits” who glide in and out of the proceedings and improved in confidence and tunefulness with each appearance. Andrew Turner and Yazid Gray as the First and Second Priests, Andrew Turner (doing double duty) and Brian Kontes as the First and Second Armored Men rounded out the cast, as did the group of Slaves played by Adam Adamik, William Buchanan, Jesse David, Eric Garber, Tim Marquette, Jordan Rininger, David Scoville and Rich Williams.
This production of The Magic Flute is truly magical and shouldn’t be missed. The thrill of the performers returning to the stage, as well as the thrill of the audiences so happy to be able to see them there again, is not going to wear off any time soon, so run to the Benedum and “Mozart’s Mystical Adventure” as fast as you can. Only three performances remain!
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The Artistic Team for The Magic Flute –
Conductor, Antony Walker; Stage Director, Dan Rigazzi; Set Designer, John Pollard; Costume Designer, Leslie Bernstein; Projection Designer, Doug Provost; Lighting Designer, Andrew Ostrowski; Wig & Make-up Designer, James Geier; Head of Music/Assistant Conductor, Glenn Lewis; Chorus Master, Mark Trawka; Associate Coach/Pianist, James Lesniak; Assistant Director, Kaley Karis Smith; Stage Manager, Cindy Knight
All photos David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera