Mozart’s “Magic Flute” delights young and old in artful MBMCF staging

By Lawrence Budmen

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” was presented by the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival Sunday at Temple Emanu-El.

The combination of comedy, fantasy and moral uplift makes The Magic Flute a perfect introduction to opera for newcomers to the art form. 

A large audience of children and adults was on hand Sunday afternoon at Temple Emanu-El for the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival’s presentation of Mozart’s valedictory operatic masterpiece. Judging from the continuous laughter and prolonged applause after arias and ensembles (as well as the loud ovation at the conclusion), the many neophytes in the crowd clearly enjoyed the experience.

The spoken dialogue in English and the musical numbers in German, the libretto was shorn of its dated elements. Except for a few minor tweaks, Mozart’s score was presented nearly complete. 

While this was clearly a student-level performance, the singing proved consistently solid with three of the protagonists exceptionally gifted. 

As Tamino, Minghao Liu projected a noble lyric tenor that could rise to heroic heights. His princely bearing and sense of fear as he initially ran from the pursuing serpent were the perfect embodiment of this musical fairy tale. 

Liu’s duets with the Pamina of Anna Donnelly were beautifully balanced and coordinated, their timbres perfectly matched. Donnelly conveyed apt grief and heartbreak in “Ach, ich fühl’s” as the heroine believes her beloved has deserted her. The soprano’s radiant middle register and exquisite pianissimos displayed vocal control and musicianship of the highest order. 

Eliza Masewicz was a tall, statuesque Queen of the Night, haughty and frightening. Masewicz’s agile coloratura matched the fury of her declamation, the high notes clear and ringing through the house.

As the bird-catcher Papageno, Andrew Backer’s voice was on the light side but he was a born comic who mugged every scene to the audience’s delight. In duet with Donnelly and the bright voiced Papagena of Arya Balian, Backer blended winningly. 

Bai Chen had the mellow tone and deep low notes for Sarastro. He captured the majestic line of “In diesen heil’gen Hallen, one of Mozart’s most inspired melodies. With more seasoning and experience, this youthful bass could have a significant career. Scott Wichael’s agile character tenor and comic-book villainy displayed Monostatos’ scheming with the queen and her retinue and his vain attempts to force Pamina to respond to his advances.

Despite wearing a mask, Joe Chappel’s molten bass-baritone gave the Speaker’s stern pronouncements weight and gravity (he doubled as a priest who matched Backer for comedic flair in their exchanges). Lizzy Stant, Rebecca Sacks and Daniei Znoo were the well-matched Three Ladies with ample vocal power for the ensembles. Balian, Stant and Kyra Leetz sang the three spirits’ lines felicitously (with Diana Bodie and Kate Doucette their miming and dancing twins). Hunter Enoch and William McCullough powerfully declaimed the Armed Guards’ warnings.

In what may have set a world record for a single opera performance, no less than nine student conductors shared the podium duties. Jordan Brooks, Chuanhong Dong, Po Hsuan Huang, Morgan  Hunkele, Julan Lamarti, Tianyi Lu, Apostolo Nikoul, Hannah Schendel and Saly Yu took turns conducting portions of the opera’s two acts.  They all acquitted themselves capably and, despite the divergent podium styles and personalities, the performance emerged remarkably coherent. 

The student orchestra played well and stylishly aside from a few brief glitches. When Mark Gibson, head of the festival’s conducting program, took over the podium for the Queen of the Night’s Act II aria, the intensity and precision of the ensemble’s playing improved exponentially. Still, this event was clearly an important learning experience for the young conductors. In the scenes in Sarastro’s temple, the small chorus sang with heft and sonority beyond its small size.

The sanctuary of the historic temple proved an apt venue for Mozart’s paean to Freemasonry. Although the stage space is limited at this venue, director Marc Callahan’s clever production made that into a virtue by utilizing the hall’s aisles and entrances as part of the playing area. In their initial spoken exchanges, Liu and Backer began talking in the original German before saying that “We’re supposed to be doing English” which got a big laugh.

The dancing animals that pranced in the aisles to Tamino’s flute delighted children and parents alike. Callahan and Paulina Lozano’s costumes added whirls of color to the fast-paced staging.

The Miami Music Festival presents Wagner’s Das Rheingold 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Temple House, 1415 Euclid Avenue in Miami Beach. The performance is free.

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Mon Jul 11, 2022
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