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Magic Flute a rich interpretation of Mozart’s genius

by Keith Barber

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The Magic Flute, Mozart’s 18th century opera, is a singspiel,. written not for the aristocracy but the common man. (courtesy image)
The virtuosity of the cast of Greensboro Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute — which held a one-night-only performance at War Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 6 — helped transport the audience back in time to Vienna in the fall of 1791. On Sept. 30 of that year, Mozart’s opera opened at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden to a very enthusiastic reception, according to Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon. From the opening scene in which Tamino, the handsome prince played by Scott Ramsay, is being pursued by a serpent, played by Andrew Smith- Tomlinson, the sound of German being sung operatically inside the confines of War Memorial Auditorium pitched the audience out from the familiar and into another realm.

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Voices lifted in song set to Mozart’s brilliant score tell the story of Pamino falling in love with a miniature rendering of the princess, Pamina, and embarking on an adventure with bird-catcher Papageno, played with great enthusiasm and superb talent by Tyler Duncan. Digital lighting effects, designed by lighting designer Barry Steele, utilize the stage’s basic construction in a most creative way. And the costumes, which were originally created for the El Paso Opera Company, are elaborate and stunning. The production is bilingual as the songs are performed in German and the dialogue is performed in English. Greensboro Opera made the decision to offer the dialogue in English “so everyone can enjoy it, and to present the musical numbers in the original German with English supertitles, so that the rhythm and cadence of the score is preserved,” Artistic Director Val’ry Ryvkin writes in the show’s program.

Ryvkin explains that in Vienna in the late 18th century, operas were mostly written for the aristocracy, but Mozart composed The Magic Flute for ordinary folks. The opera is known as a singspiel, a precursor to operetta and musical comedy.

Ryvkin’s conducting of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra was nothing short of spectacular. Music Director Dimitry Sitkovetsky also deserves a great deal of credit for the masterful performance by the 32-piece orchestra.

As the story unfolds, the Queen of the Night, played by Sherri Seiden, appears to order Tamino to free her daughter from Sarastro. Seiden’s aria during this early scene is absolutely mesmerizing as she promises Tamino he can marry the beautiful princess Pamina once he frees her from Sarastro’s clutches. The Three Ladies, played brilliantly by Amy Van Looy, Melissa Larkin and Jennifer Gaspar, give Tamino a magic flute that has the power to change men’s hearts. The ladies also give Papageno magic bells for his protection.

Tamino and Papageno then set out on their adventure guided by Three Spirits, played by Donna Maria Pimental, Elizabeth Harvey and Marian Towe. Papageno is the first to make contact with Pamina, played with great aplomb by Andrea Edith Moore, and he tells her that Tamino is in love with her.

When Tamino reaches Sarastro’s temple, he is informed by a priest, played by Jeffrey Carlson, that Sarastro is not evil but good. Meanwhile, Papageno and Pamina are searching for Tamino and are overtaken by Sarastro’s slaves, played by David Weigel, James G. Williams and C. Blayne Ziegenfuss, and Monostatos, played by Carmund White. Papageno uses his magic bells to subdue his and Pamina’s would-be captors. A judicial proceeding where Sarastros, played by Craig Hart, presides. Tamino and Pamina are united for the first time and Sarastros leads them inside the temple where they will undergo trials as a test of their love.

As Act 2 unfolds, the audience becomes increasingly aware of its connection to the opera lovers of 18th century Vienna and the eternal connection of Mozart’s musical legacy.

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