Orchestra Miami serves up a delightful, site-specific “Magic Flute”

By Lawrence Budmen

Very old Tamino and Papageno in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" presented by Orchestra Miami Friday night at the Scottish RIte Temple in Miami. Photo: Laurence Lerner

Gregory Schmidt as Tamino and Gabriel Preisser as Papageno in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” presented by Orchestra Miami Friday night at the Scottish Rite Temple. Photo: Laurence Levine

A combination of Masonic ritual and 18th-century musical comedy, Mozart’s The Magic Flute contains some of the composer’s most sublime music.  On Friday night Orchestra Miami presented an adventurous production of the Salzburg wunderkind’s final operatic masterpiece in the imposing main hall of Scottish Rite Temple in Miami.

Director David Grabarkewitz devised a new English version of the spoken dialogue, mostly set in rhymed couplets. His text was frequently witty while basically adhering to the opera’s original libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. Pre-performance publicity suggested that Grabarkewitz’s version would be a politically correct feminist view of women’s role in the Masonic order. As it turned out, just one brief speech by the Queen of the Night vaguely suggested contemporary ideology. 

Otherwise Grabarkewitz presented the opera as Mozart conceived it with the Masonic venue’s Egyptian architecture adding its own note of authenticity. His clever production delineated both the nobility of the hero prince Tamino and his journey for wisdom and purity and the comic world of the bird catcher Papageno and his search for a spouse. In an interesting touch, Grabarkewitz had the opera’s villains (the queen, Monostatos and the three ladies) come on at the end and kneel in submission and defeat. 

The unaccredited translation of the arias and vocal parts was mostly the old Ruth and Thomas Martin English-language version that the Met presented throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s (with some alterations in Papageno’s scenes). Most of the singers exhibited clear diction in their solos–fortunately, since there was no projected text. In ensembles with multiple voices, articulation and clarity were more problematic.

For her most adventurous offering to date, artistic director Elaine Rinaldi fielded a capable cast with particular strength in the major roles. 

Entering through the aisles chased by a Chinese style serpent that encircled the audience, Gregory Schmidt was a dignified Tamino with a lyric tenor that could caress the ear when singing softly. In Tamino’s initial scene at the temple, Schmidt’s heroic timbre and the thrust and solidity of his high notes rang impressively throughout the hall.

Adorned in white (as were all of the women in the Masonic scenes), Yunah Lee was world-class as Pamina, the opera’s heroine. Her evenly produced lyric soprano, exquisite high range and ability to seize the theatrical moment were consistently outstanding. In Pamina’s aria after she believes Tamino’s silence (as part of his Masonic trials) means rejection, Lee registered deep emotion and dramatic projection.  Lee and Schmidt’s duet before undergoing the final trials by fire and water was one of the evening’s most beautiful vocal moments.

Gabriel Preisser’s Papageno was the inevitable scene stealer. With a light, warm baritone and endearing manner, Preisser is a natural comic. His pratfalls and fast-spun recitations of the bird catcher’s lines kept the audiences laughing. 

Making her professional operatic debut as the Queen of the Night, Miami soprano Melissa Ruiz was a real find. Dressed in black with blond wig and crown, she slinked around the stage, less a stock villainess than a smart woman with a dark agenda. In the queen’s two high-flying arias, Ruiz’s nimble coloratura was spot on and rhythmically agile.

Neil Nelson exuded dignity and commanding presence as the Masonic high priest Sarastro. His voluminous bass-baritone  had the low notes for Sarastro’s two arias well in hand. 

Andres Lasaga, who has given fine performances in several UM Frost Opera Theater productions, avoided caricature as the villain Monostatos, his refined character tenor strongly projecting the text. As first an old lady and later a sexy ingénue,  Leslie Zapiain (another Frost Opera member) was the vocally sweet, spicily characterized Papagena and a fine vocal foil for Preisser.

Robyn Marie Lamp, Lauren Frick and Natalie Rose Havens were the well-balanced trio of Three Ladies. Their funny antics and lovely voices kept the ensembles lively and pointed.  Among supporting roles, Lloyd Reshard stood out as the mellow-toned Speaker. The three children spirits (Amanda Murias, Mason Lang, and Marco Rosa) handled Mozart’s vocal writing capably. 

With just over twenty players, the orchestral forces could not fully encompass Mozart’s symphonic writing but the ensemble played well with especially lovely flute solos by Elissa Lakovsky. A few overly slow tempos apart,  Rinaldi kept the score moving and drew excellent singing from the choral forces. At times the musicians became part of the action, hissing and yelling as demons and lions. Having the Masonic priests sometimes sing from the temple’s balcony was a striking and effective touch.

Utilizing painted backdrops from the temple’s rituals produced striking and picturesque tableaux, aided by John Baldwin’s effective set pieces and platforms. Marina Pareja’s array of white costumes for the women, black for the queen and entourage and varied hues for the priests lit up the stage.

While this production was not quite a Magic Flute one might see in a major opera house, it was remarkably well sung and entertaining and makes a fine introduction to opera for children and novices. Only some audience members who had obviously never attended an opera before and persistently applauded in the middle of arias (one sometimes standing up) broke the spell of Mozart’s fantasy in this unique, site-specific presentation. 

Orchestra Miami repeats The Magic Flute 2 p.m. Saturday (a special children’s presentation with a different cast) and 2 p.m. Sunday at Scottish Rite Temple, 471 NW 3rd Street in Miami.  orchestramiami.org  305-274-2103

Photo: Laurence Levine

Photo: Laurence Levine

Posted in Performances

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Sat May 12, 2018
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