The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra concluded its current Masterworks season with a sold-out performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute in Kenan Auditorium, followed by a free family concert* the next afternoon. The busyness of this final weekend bespeaks the orchestra’s heavy involvement in the community it serves and, in turn, the support it enjoys from Port City music lovers. This is a good thing as the arts in general and in Wilmington in particular can never be taken for granted: several of the city’s important presenters have, alas, gone out of business in the fairly recent past, so again we remind our readers to contribute to the groups you care about and that you really, really want to keep!

But enough editorializing. Let’s celebrate success instead! And there was plenty to celebrate on this occasion. The program offered what was called a fully-staged performance of the opera, featuring members of UNCW’s Opera Outreach Program (UNC-WOOP!), a mostly-college-level program that must be one of SE NC’s greater hidden secrets. The chorus was the UNCW Chamber Choir. The WSO was positioned at the back of the Kenan stage, with a dividing line of sorts provided by columns alternately decorated with palm trees and torches and some sand dunes that looked somewhat like sand bags but let’s not be picky! A few pyramids were visible behind the orchestra and a clouded disc was suspended overhead, a disc that was sometimes a moon and sometimes a sun. The action took place across the lip of the stage, which means that the nicely-costumed and very attractively illuminated vocalists were often forward of the arch and were thus for the most part quite clearly audible (thanks also to some relatively inconspicuous amplification) as they navigated the late Andrew Porter‘s wonderfully singable translation from the German. Two dancers made brief appearances. The coordinator of all stage activities was the director of WOOP! There was a neat little serpent with large teeth but there weren’t many props. I’m not sure I’d call it staged, really. Semi-staged is probably a more accurate description.

There’s a pit in the hall. I’m guessing it’s too small for an orchestra, even a Mozart orchestra, so having the band on the stage may have been the only option. It didn’t do the orchestra any favors, for there was a back curtain and no shell to help throw the instrumental sound into the hall. The accompaniments often came across as a little dull, and even the overture and the other numbers without singers sounded a bit recessed. I mention this mostly in the event the WSO and WOOP! do another one sometime. There were also advantages to the setup that was used, particularly since so many young singers were involved.

So set that aside and let’s address the really good things about this very, very fine presentation of one of the greatest operas (it’s a Singspiel, actually, with spoken dialogue, roughly akin to a French opéra comique). The fact that the singers were largely young and unknown worked to the opera’s advantage, as delivered, for this was a true ensemble presentation, the sort of evening at the opera one rarely encounters in big houses loaded up with stars. Here, the music was the star, and the result was almost from start to finish a positive thing, wonderful to see and hear. There was never – no, not once – too much orchestra. Even in the ensemble numbers, up to and including the finales of both acts, one could pick out and follow individual vocal lines. How often does that happen in NY or London or…?

There were some highlights. The Queen, who was a guest artist, set off sparks with her stratospheric coloratura. The Tamino, who is a freshman, for heaven’s sake, was consistently impressive. His love interest Pamina was charming to see and hear. Papageno seemed a bit wooly at first (feathery, maybe) but came into his own and was first rate in his exchanges with the vivacious Papagena. Sarastro rumbled in oft’ sepulchral fashion and was equally impressive in his spoken passages. Monostatos brought moments of levity to the proceedings. The little ensembles – the ladies, the spirits, the priests – did fine in their several appearances. (We will append the cast list below; I am grateful to Director Nancy King, one of UNCW’s musical mainstays, for sending the names so we may include them here.** For some reason, they were not listed in the program.)

There’s lots of symbolism in this opera, and sometimes, elsewhere (and even in great big houses), a lot of it is not very clear. Light and dark, day and night, good and evil, and even some healthy servings-up of Masonic ritual, or so some would tell us…. In this presentation, all of the above and many more details were made manifestly clear.

The conductor was Steven Errante, MD of the WSO, a member of the UNCW family, and a composer of note as well.

Production credits are due chorus master Joe Hickman, costumer Mark Sorensen, scenic designer Max Lydy, and lighting designer Tara Noland, who is technical director of Kenan Auditorium.

This was something to remember. Lucky Wilmington.

The WSO announced its next season at this concert. We’ll include the programs in our calendar in due course.

*”Featuring the Wilmington Symphony Youth Orchestra and Junior Strings.”

**Magic Flute Cast (in order of appearance): Tamino (Daniel Paparozzi, freshman), 1st Lady (Sara Westermark), 2nd Lady (Bella Stollenmaier, junior), 3rd Lady (Carolyn Fagerholm, senior), Papageno (Quentin Lovette, sophomore), Queen of the Night (Lauren Mazzola), Monostatos (Kevin Towles, senior), Pamina (Hannah Owens senior), 1st Spirit (Katie Kromer, freshman), 2nd Spirit (Emily Wildenhaus, sophomore). 3rd Spirit (Kourtney Wathen, senior), Sarastro (Nate Strock, junior), & Papagena (Jaclyn Gradel, senior).