Review: Pittsburgh Opera's 'Magic Flute' lives up to the name
By Mark Kanny
Published: Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 9:17 a.m.
Appealing musical performances carry the day and night in Pittsburgh Opera's production of “The Magic Flute,” which opened Nov. 9 at the Benedum Center, and will continue through Nov. 17. The German opera is being performed in English.
The genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was at full force when he wrote “The Magic Flute” to a libretto by his friend Emanuel Schickaneder. Both comic and serious in Mozart's way, the music has all the charm, wit and depth of this composer at his best. The opera's words and music are filled with symbolism of Viennese free-masonry, a short-lived idealistic movement nearing its end when the opera was first presented in 1791.
The staging Pittsburgh Opera presented was originally created for Canadian Opera Company in Toronto by Diane Paulus. While it does generate plenty of laughs, it shows no sympathy for many of the opera's more serious aspects that motivated its creators.
The staging's concept is ostensibly a play within a play. In practice, it's not much more than an initial frame soon dropped entirely. The stage action in this production begins during the overture, when the curtain is usually closed. We see the opera's characters preparing for a performance of “The Magic Flute” as part of a birthday party for a wealthy family's daughter, Pamina.
The opera's first act is performed on a small stage, observed at first by Pamina, her father, others in the household and Pamina's mother, who is divorced from her father. Her father will be Sarastro in the opera, her mother, the Queen of the Night. The audience on stage is gone well before the end of the first act and dispensed with entirely in the second act, along with the tiny stage within a stage.
Fortunately, most of the cast was excellent Nov. 9, and the entire performance was shaped superbly by conductor Antony Walker. Nearly all the cast was a past or current member of a resident artists program. Most were from Pittsburgh Opera's program, and Layla Claire, who played Pamina, completed the program at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Pamina and her prince, Tamino, are the principal romantic couple in the opera, and both roles were superbly sung.
Soprano Claire has an exceptionally appealing voice in her middle and upper registers — clean and clear with just the right amount of warmth. She retains tonal luster up to the high B flats and has ample agility. Once the ditsiness of Pamina's personality during the overture is past, Claire's portrayal was a bit more assertive than one usually encounters in this part.
Tenor Sean Panikkar was thoroughly enjoyable as Tamino. His singing was never forced, and his voice carried very well. His beautiful tone carried smoothly across registers.
Audrey Luna's coloratura was confident and exciting in the Queen of the Night's two raging arias, even if her highest notes were a bit pinched Nov. 9.
While Oren Gradus was impressive in some passages, Sarastro's tessitura requires a singer with a much stronger lower register.
The almost purely comic roles of Papageno and Papagena were brilliantly performed by Craig Verm and Meredith Lustig. Verm's comedic talents were an unending delight, and his singing was consistently solid and well-colored. Lustig was a hoot pretending, at first, to be an old woman as a romantic interest, but she also showed the beauty of her voice when she reveals herself to be an attractive young woman.
The three ladies in service to the Queen of the Night who rescue Tamino from a serpent at the beginning of the opera were very well sung by Jasmine Muhammad, Samantha Korbey and Nicole Rodin.
Tenor Daniel Curran was a good sport playing the overtly devilish Monostatos that Paulus devised. Rick Mikol and Phillip Gay needed more vocal strength as the Two Armed Men.
The orchestra played extremely well throughout the opera, though more violinists would have been welcome. Woodwind solos were full of personality and admirable tone, while the brass and timpani were sonorously remarkable. The glockenspiel part was expertly performed on an electronic keyboard.
Walker deserves much of the credit for the evening's success. His pacing and balancing within the orchestra served the music well. However a few tempi, particularly at the end of the opera, were too fast, and, at times, the orchestra could have played more softly.
Pittsburgh Opera Chorus was superb, consistently producing firm, well-centered singing. Some of the staging was unintentionally funny, such as bearded ladies playing the three spirits. The more serious problem with the staging devised by Paulus was that it often undermined Mozart's sublime music.
“The Magic Flute” will be repeated at 7 p.m. Nov. 12, 8 p.m. Nov. 15 and 2 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $12 to $179. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Crosby lifts Penguins over Capitals in last game of road trip
- Stage volunteer dies following collapse at Pine-Richland High School
- Top pitching prospect Taillon’s time with Pirates must wait a bit
- Marcellus shale driller Noble Energy Inc. sinks roots into Pittsburgh
- Penguins notebook: Heralded Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov debuts with Capitals
- Hempfield couple charged in thefts
- Pirates notebook: Martin finding power stroke
- ‘Fresher, different, lot more fun’ guide changes at Kings Family Restaurants
- Fear of building collapse closes Tarentum road