Frost Opera Theater singers bring youthful charm to “Magic Flute”

By Lawrence Budmen

Barbee Monk and Justin John Moniz star in Frost Opera Theater’s production of “The Magic Flute.”

The University of Miami’s Frost Opera Theater has presented an impressive series of productions of Mozart operas and twentieth century works in recent seasons. Mozart’s The Magic Flute may be the most ambitious score FOT director Alan Johnson has yet attempted. The opening night performance on Thursday was a triumph for the vocal program’s gifted students. While the young singers may have lacked the extra polish that experienced professionals can bring to Mozart’s final masterpiece, they more than compensated with youthful, attractive voices and vivid characterizations.

The uncluttered production by choreographer Catherine Turocy has the virtue of not superimposing an updated scenario on Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto. Turocy, founder of the New York Baroque Dance Company and a member of the Juilliard School’s Historical Performance program faculty, moves the action along swiftly. She avoids the temptation to choreograph the overture as in too many contemporary opera productions, allowing Mozart’s music to speak for itself. In the opening scene, the serpent that chases Prince Tamino  is  snaked around the stage by three dancers. The Masonic scenes are staged in a stylized, spare manner bereft of heavy-handed symbolism.

At the conclusion, Turocy brings the serpent, the evil Monostatos and the Queen of the Night and her entourage back on stage, suggesting that the forces of darkness have not  been totally  vanquished by the light. While the music is sung in the original German, the spoken dialogue is in English. That juxtaposition did not prove jarring and increases audience engagement with the story and cast. A series of columns and platforms, the sets by Turocy and Johnson are functional and Jena Hoefert’s costumes fill the Gusman Concert Hall stage with color.

As Papageno, Jeffrey Williams is a tall, bird-haired presence and a born comedian. Williams’ warm, effortless baritone projected the bird catcher’s arias with nuance and subtlety. Making an imposing entrance through a scrim with flashes of lightning, Hillary Trumpler  was a frightening Queen of the Night. The coloratura of this killer soprano role held no terrors for Trumpler, her first aria gleaming and brilliant, the high F’s in Der Holle Rache nailed with dazzling precision.

Although Justin John Moniz’s high range was taxed by Tamino’s first aria, his finely shaded lyric tenor was a joy to hear in the ensembles and his reunion duet with the Pamina of Barbee Monk was exquisitely sung. Monk brought ravishing tones to Ach, ich fuhl’s, intensely projecting the depths of Pamina’s despair at Tamino’s silence and indifference.

Eric McConnell unfurls a lighter bass-baritone timbre in the role of the Masonic ruler Sarastro but his low notes are deep and firm. Avoiding the usual caricature, Jared Peroune’s Monaotatos  seems genuinely attracted to Pamina, his deft light tenor nimbly encompassing the Moor’s playfulness and murderous fury. Claudio Valverdi’s rotund bass and beautiful legato turn the Speaker into a star turn. Valverdi and Peroune double in a vociferous, stentorian duo as the Men in Armor.

An engaging soubrette soprano, Kristina Notghi makes a hilarious Papagena, scampering about the stage with a cane as an old hag and sexy and charismatic when transformed into a youthful woman, her short stature contrasting with Williams’ height to comedic effect. Special kudos to the Three Ladies who steal every scene.  Mary Claire Curran, Raquel Rubi and Katherine Wiggins bring beautiful voices and impeccable ensemble skills to some of Mozart’s most delightful writing.

The small chorus valiantly encompasses Mozart’s noble ensemble scenes and members of the Frost Symphony Orchestra sounded wonderfully smooth and transparent under Johnson’s astute baton, particularly the splendid flute solos. Johnson’s unflagging direction did full justice to both the verve and nobility of Mozart’s operatic swan song.

The Frost Opera Theater repeats The Magic Flute 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the University of Miami Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables. 305-284-2400;

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Fri Mar 1, 2013
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