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Freemasonry Watch

Opera Review: Director pulls out stops for Mozart's 'Magic Flute'

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Opera Review: Director pulls out stops for Mozart's 'Magic Flute'

Monday, March 26, 2007

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Watching Jonathan Eaton's productions for Opera Theater of Pittsburgh over the years, one question has stood out: What would this talented director do with more resources? His work as artistic director for that spirited company has always been compelling and creative, but it operates with a smaller budget and in smaller venues. Saturday night, we finally found out, when Eaton got his chance, directing Wolfgang Mozart's "The Magic Flute" for the Pittsburgh Opera at the Benedum Center.

Pittsburgh Opera's 'The Magic Flute'

In collaboration with: Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.

Featuring: Jason Karn, Tammy Tyburczy, Daniel Teadt.

Where: Benedum, Downtown.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $16-$130; 412-456-6666.

Eaton and his set and costume designer, Danila Korogodsky, referenced the Masonic symbolism that pervades Mozart's masterpiece, the set resembling those delightful 3-D architectural models made out of white cardboard. Pyramids, columns and arches and geometric signs, all-seeing eyes and numerals, all lay within a walled-off space. Giant picture frames served as moveable doorways, constantly refreshing the stage. It was a sleek and minimalist backdrop for the abstract nature of a prince's journey for wisdom and love in a strange land.

The night also marked the debut of new Pittsburgh Opera music director Antony Walker. His presence was immediately felt in the overture, when he adroitly emphasized the interplay between the first and second violins in its allegro. Elsewhere during the performance he offered inspiration, precision and purpose to the orchestra and singers. This was exciting Mozart that surrendered none of its beauty. One particularly effective example was his ushering in of the trials scene by raising his arms with palms facing up -- bringing the orchestra up as much as bringing it in. There were still occasional problems with intonation in the strings, but it's clear the opera has an active conductor with strong musicianship and technique. I look forward to hearing more.

The singers ranged from intriguing to adequate, but none really distinguished themselves. However, the cast did sing with cohesion throughout, crucial to this opera.

Jason Karn played Tamino with a good balance of spunk and reverence, something that also shone through in his silvery timbre. A Pittsburgh Opera Center artist, as were many in the cast, he could still stand to capture more of the regal quality and confidence of the prince. His constant companion, Daniel Teadt as the birdcatcher Papageno, benefited greatly by the decision to use English dialogue (which Eaton wrote). "Magic Flute" is technically a singspiel, not an opera, meaning it has spoken dialogue. But changing this to English allowed for sharp comic timing. Teadt was hilarious throughout, capturing the essence of the goofy character. Strangely, though, his volume was cut in half when he sang.

Considering her last-minute substitution, soprano Audrey Luna did a fine job with the difficult Queen of the Night role. She delivered the famous and complicated Act II aria with a rush of energy and a gorgeous vocal quality; only a few of the rapid, oboe-like notes wavered in pitch. Tammy Tyburczy played Pamina too safe -- it was again a competent performance but one that didn't offer much beyond. This is one of the strongest female roles in opera, especially in the context of "The Magic Flute's" tribute to the all-male Masonic orders of the time, and she could have commanded more. Speaking of the Freemasons, Gregory Reinhart's gravely voice was perfect for Sarastro, although he struggled with low notes, and Scott Scully was wonderfully creepy as Monostatos.

Who attending didn't wish that Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder had introduced Papageno's wife, Papagena, earlier in the opera after seeing NaGuanda Nobles excel in the role? She captured the silly yet sexy birdwoman with ease, and the duo was fun to watch. Similar were the three ladies, here played by Carolyn Betty, Karin Mushegain and Jennifer Holloway. Eaton captured a bit of the Rhinemaidens with their competitive flirting, while the three sang with good ensemble.

The chorus, prepared by Mark Trawka, was fine, as were the three spirits, sung by Morgan Hopkins, Angelea Taylor and Marissa Zane. Eaton asked a lot of these three girls, and they delivered, never letting it affect their bell-like tones. The children popping up throughout the production as beasts also hit their marks well.

First published on March 26, 2007 at 12:00 am

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.

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