Solemnity and Folksiness Collide in Stylish Flute

United StatesUnited States Mozart, The Magic Flute: Soloists, Stephen Goldstein (director), Isaac Selya (conductor), College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, Corbett Auditorium. Cincinnati, Ohio. 7.4.13 (RDA)

Marco D. Cammarota (Tamino)
Karen Chia-Ling Ho (Pamina)
Molly Hanes (Queen of the Night)
Derrell Acon (Sarastro)
Joseph Lattanzi (Papageno)
Emma Jean Cardiff (Papagena)
Charles Z. Owen (Speaker)
Tara Deieso, Jennifer Panara and Leah de Gruyl (Three Ladies)
Spencer Viator (Monostatos)
Natalie Eccleston, Elizabeth A. Osborn and Adria Caffaro (Three Spirits)
Jason Weisinger, and Cesar A. Mendez (Two Priests)
M. Andrew Jones and Thomas Richards (Two Men in Armor)

The trick to playing the right notes on Mozart’s The Magic Flute is to find the right balance between the low register solemnity of Sarastro’s Masonic realm and the piping notes of Papageno’s folksy ditties. In CCM’s cheerful production of Mozart’s penultimate work for the stage, these musical and dramatic worlds coalesce into a happily-realized whole, thanks to the assured conducting of Isaac Selya and Stephen Goldstein’s inventive staging. The imaginative costumes by Dean Mogle provide a visual feast: 18th century silhouettes in a palette of icy blues for the netherworld of the Queen of the Night and her retinue, pitted against proto-Egyptian garb in burnt oranges and earth tones for the denizens of Sarastro’s Temple of Wisdom.

Mozart wrote The Magic Flute for his friend and fellow Mason Emmanuel Schikaneder, a successful theatrical producer in 18th-century Vienna and a popular song-and-dance comic with his very own theater. But all is not fun and games in this mythical forest of the soul in which common man Papageno longs for his Papagena, while the noble hero Tamino seeks the idealized beloved he has yet to meet. Sarastro is there to lay down the male-imposed rules of this epic hide-and-go-seek game, while the Queen of the Night, mother to Princess Pamina is there to subvert them with the forces of feminist hell. At stake is the young Princess’s well-being, her happiness, her future and her very soul—all made compelling by the gravitas of some of Mozart’s most sublime music, yet tempered by the irrepressible humor of Schikaneder’s gamey storytelling. Conductor Isaac Selya led his instrumental and vocal forces in a stylistically perfect reading of Mozart’s score, stepping up the pace when needed, giving weight to the solemn moments, and keeping the singers in touch with the pit and with each other.

In CCM’s Saturday cast, several singing actors outshone each other when bravura was called for and sang as one when ensemble singing was required. As the lovers, soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho and tenor Marco D. Cammarota looked and sounded good; he was exemplary in the hurdle-filled Trial Scene in Act II. Ms. Chia-Ling Ho, a lyric soprano with a silky timbre that she effortlessly maintains up and down the range and an elegant command of the Mozartian line, was never better than in “Ach ich fuhl’s,” with those wicked repeated ascents to top B-flat’s which seemingly offer no place to breathe.

Joseph Lattanzi is terrific in the role of the bird catcher Papageno, endearing in his love of the simple life, genuinely funny even auf Deutsch, and ultimately touching in his suicide aria in Act II. When he encounters his longed-for Papagena comic sparks fly.

Soprano Molly Hanes holds her own in both Queen of the Night arias, taking on the notoriously stratospheric high F’s with ease. Bass Derrell Acon brings vocal authority to Sarastro, and bass-baritone Charles Z. Owen lends dramatic dignity and vocal elegance to the all-important encounter between the Speaker and Tamino in Act I.

Tara Deieso, Jennifer Panara and Leah de Gruyl are the three sonorous and confused Three Ladies, opposite their child-like counterparts, Natalie Eccleston, Elizabeth A. Osborn and Adria Caffaro. Jason Weisinger, Cesar A. Mendez, M. Andrew Jones and Thomas Richards score singing points during Act II, playing a variety of supporting roles. A large chorus lends its support in the choral numbes of Act II and in both finales.

CCM is committed to opera in the original language—a principle that I neither wholeheartedly embrace nor reject offhand. On a case-by-case basis, I would prefer my Da Ponte-Mozart collaborations in the original Italian but would cast my vote for the German versions of SingspieleAbduction from the Seraglio, Zaide, The Impresario and, yes, The Magic Flute—in a language in which the constant jokes don’t get filtered and delayed by translations. That quibble aside, I cast an enthusiastic vote for this, one of the finest student productions of The Magic Flute I have seen.

Rafael de Acha