The last couple of years for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) were rough. The fame that he enjoyed earlier in his life had waned, and he was financially strapped. When theatrical producer Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) asked the composer to team up with him to write Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Mozart agreed. The libretto (text of the opera) was written by Schikaneder, and Mozart led the premiere of the work from the keyboard in Vienna in 1791. It was an immediate hit, and it was still being performed when Mozart died a couple of months later. The Magic Flute is one of the most performed works in the repertoire.
The UNC Greensboro Schools of Music and Theatre presented a new production Thursday night in the UNCG Auditorium. Technically, Flute is a Singspiel, a theatrical work that includes both singing and spoken dialogue that combines both the comic and the serious. This student production made the most out of the work, which combines a fairy tale of a damsel in distress and a prince who rescues her with an allegory about the pursuit of Wisdom and Enlightenment. The music, from the outset, is absolutely infectious, and the shenanigans and beautiful singing make the production a work that should be seen and heard by all.
The overture begins with three solemn chords, that number possessing mystical significance to Masons. (Mozart and Schikaneder were both Freemasons.) We hear those chords a couple of times later in the course of the opera. The rest of the overture is a merry fugue, based on a twinkling tune that frolics through the instruments.
The handsome prince Tamino, (Ian DeSmit), is being chased by a demon at the beginning. The demon is vanquished by the Three Ladies (Ashley Cappelli, Hanae Zevgolis, and Kayla Brotherton) who are attendants to the Queen of the Night (Leanna Crenshaw). The bird-man Papageno (Christian Blackburn) takes credit for the rescue, only to be punished by the Ladies. Tamino is given a picture of the Queen's daughter Pamina (Oleksandra Verzole), with whom he immediately falls in love.
As it turns out, Pamina is being held by her father Sarastro (Reginald Powell) in his Temple of Wisdom for her own good. Toss in Three Spirits (Jen Brounstein, Ashley Buffa, and Bailey Lail), an evil lackey, Monostatos, (sung by Charles Lorenze Salmorin Sparks) who tries to force himself on Pamina, several priests, some animals, and quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo incorporating Masonic principles and the gods Isis and Osiris, and you have a large cast with lots of tangents. Complicated? Somewhat, but with spoken dialogue in English coupled with supertitle translations of the sung German and clear stage direction by David Holley, the production can be enjoyed by a wide audience.
DeSmit's Tamino was a winning hero with a clear tenor voice. Verzole's Pamina was winsome and her singing of the lyric arias were lovely. Blackburn's Papageno lit up the stage; his hearty singing and great comic acting was wonderful. His Papagena (Clarice Weiseman), who first appears as an old woman but turns into a beautiful lover, matched his energy with perky singing. Sparks' Monostatos was up to the challenge of the rapid-fire singing.
Crenshaw's Queen was a "Woman in Black," and her singing of the legendary high notes was spot-on and a delight to hear. Powell's Sarastro, her nemesis, was perfectly solemn, wise, and stately. The singing and acting of the Three Ladies and the Three Spirits (remember the importance of that number?) was first-rate. The chorus, prepared by Garrett Saake, was good as well. The singing of groups – duets through quintets – was solid.
For the record, some of the dialogue was hard to hear when the singers were not facing the audience, some singers were occasionally covered by the orchestra when they sang from certain parts of the stage, and not all singers were equally adept. The orchestra, led by Kevin M. Geraldi, was pretty clean, and accompanied the singers admirably. The set design by Devon Drohan was effective and multi-functional, and the costumes designed by Rebecca Huguet were appropriately evocative. The lighting by Dylan G. Bollinger was terrific, adding drama and mood at every turn. Technical Director Chip Haas kept all the disparate elements running smoothly.
The Magic Flute is a celebration of true love conquering all and carries us into an enchanted world where good wins over evil. The true hero of the night is Mozart: the music is magnificent – unbelievable, really. The production takes us on an enjoyable journey well worth the undertaking.
This performance repeats Friday, April 13 and Sunday April 15. See our sidebar for details.