April 21st, 2009

Florentine Opera: The Magic Flute

Sunday ended this year's Florentine Opera season with Mozart's "The
Magic Flute." This was the first "Magic Flute" for us since we saw the
spectacular performance by the Staatsoper while we were in Vienna. We
thought this one might be a bit of a come-down, but the Florentine has
been doing excellent shows lately, so it wasn't a given.

The important lead roles were all excellently done. Ryan MacPherson as
Tamino, Ava Pine as Pamina, Heather Buck as the Queen of the Night, and
Craig Verm as Papageno all sang well and strongly, and enunciated the
English text clearly enough to be understood without the supertitles, as
did most of the cast. The principals moved well and with expression
also, a good thing since the stage direction was otherwise

"Undistinguished" unfortunately applied to a number of other elements of
the show, notably the set, which was a uniformly dull white collection
of ramps and panels. The could be, and were, moved about to suggest
scene changes, but nothing was done that suggested any particular place
(a challenge at best, since much of the second half takes place in the
trackless catacombs of Sarastro's Temple).
The panels were used for projections a couple of times, but is seemed
like inspiration ran out after the first couple of scenes and this
capability was underused. The light plot was also minimal, and did
little except hint at mood changes.

David Cushing as Sarastro may not have been in good voice: unlike many
of the cast members, he has sung here before, as Masetto in "Don
Giovanni" in 2006, and I think I'd have recalled a singer whose voice
was as wooly and lacking in resonance. Georgie and Kate also thought
that Colleen Brooks as the Third Lady was not up to snuff. I didn't hear
that, but I'd be the first to admit that their ears are sharper than
mine--. We all agreed that the choice to cast women as the Three Spirits
instead of children was a poor one. The singers did well and nothing
wrong, it is just that even lighter women's voices lack the ethereal
quality that boys can give to these roles.

That said, there was much else good. Rodell Rosel as Monostratos gave a
very fresh take on the role. Sarastro's rogue henchman is often a
looming menacing presence: Rosel, who is small and athletic, gave us a
very funny Monostratos in the "sexually frustrated homely runt" genre.
Greer Davis-Brown gave us a very charming Papagena. The home-grown
costume design by Christianne Myers was very nice, especially for the
Queen and her Ladies, Papageno and Papagena, and subtle effects in
Pamina's costume. The Florentine Opera chorus was in good voice and
drill, and Maestro Joseph Rescigno lead the orchestra in balance, pitch
and precision that were right on for this performance.

It was still an enjoyable afternoon at the opera for us, just a bit
unsatisfying since we know the Florentine can do better.