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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Missing the Magic

Classical Review

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Mozart's The MagicFlute is a fantastical product of the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. Besides high-minded ideals, it is full of humor and a vast array of character types. Unfortunately, these diverse aspects struggled to come together in the Florentine Opera production of last weekend.

The basic elements of music, direction and design all were less than fully realized. Joseph Rescigno's conducting could have used more care in phrasing and shape, both onstage and in the orchestra pit. This added to the impression that the production did not seem to know what it wanted to be. Flute can be done innumerable ways, but any approach, however dark, should have some sense of fun and fantasy about it.

The unit set design, by Noele Stollmack, had intriguing architecture but was bland in color. Video projected onto the set would have enlivened the look. The first scene promised this, but video was used too sparingly thereafter, and the opera became visually monochromatic. Costuming, designed by Christianne Myers, was uneven. The Queen of the Night garb was wonderfully rich, as was Sarastro's. Some other principal and chorus costumes were far less interesting and less flattering. William Florescu's direction needed a much stronger concept beyond basic blocking. Act Two became rather dull.

Craig Verm was self-conscious as Papageno in the early scenes, but loosened up and became more at ease in this ultimate folk character. I doubt that many companies will cast Ryan MacPherson as Tamino. His singing is too hotblooded for this noble fairy-tale prince. The role asks for more consistently beautiful lyric tenor sound than MacPherson produced. David Cushing sang with disturbing tone as Sarastro, his voice tense and garbled. Ava Pine did a commendable job as Pamina, her singing opening up as the opera progressed. Heather Buck's Queen of the Night hinted at more than it delivered, and was marred by some missed high notes on Friday evening.

Rodell Rosel gave the standout performance, brilliant and entertaining, in the minor role of Monostatos. Rosel has a rising career in major opera houses in character tenor roles. It's easy to see why.