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Magic Flute grounded in good singing, drama and comedy

Portland Opera
05/12/2007 -  and May 15, 17, 19, 2007
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute

Jonathan Boyd (Tamino), Jonathan Hays (Papageno), Mari Moriya (The Queen of the Night), Peter Blanchet (Monostatos), Mary Dunleavy (Pamina), Craig Hart (Sarastro), Amber Opheim (Papagena), Lous Lebherz (Speaker)
Portland Opera Chorus, Robert Ainsley (chorus director), Portland Opera Orchestra, Ari Pelto (conductor)
Christopher Mattaliano (director), Jeff Harris (lighting designer)

Three months before the 35-year-old Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave in December, 1791, The Magic Flute premiered in Vienna.

Today, and since then, almost every opera company includes Mozart’s finale in its repertoire, and yet somehow, it forever provides a stage for imaginative productions. The two-act opera entertains on many levels. Children (the children’s roles offer more wisdom than many of the adults’) can love the piece for sheer adventure, colorful humor, and easy-listening music. True opera buffs can dig deeper, find its layers of truth-seeking, and revel in its extraordinary range of music.

The opera is a generally sunny mixture of fairytale, romantic adventure, comedy, idealism, the search for light and truth, and the principles of Enlightenment. More precisely, as PO director Christopher Mattaliano describes it, the opera is “a mess, but a glorious mess.”

It is Mozart’s lyrical music, of course, that gives it glue. Maestro Ari Pelto directed with a sixth sense to keep the huge cast and many set changes in order. The music is interrupted with English dialogue (though the rest is sung in German), creating a “singspiel” that added theatrical thrills as well as clarification.

The spark came from several directions. Most obviously, Mary Dunleavy’s soprano worked the role of Pamina, the lost girl seeking light and love, into pure stardom. Despite her appealing demureness, she has astounding pipes, and it took all the stamina of Jonathan Boyd’s (Tamino) earnest tenor to keep up with her.

Among the most difficult high-register roles in opera, The Queen of the Night, was sung by Mari Moriya, who performed the role in Julie Taymor’s Die Zauberflöte production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. When she appeared in her starry garb for her first-act aria, her voice petered out, but by the second act, her soprano hit the stratosphere.

Jonathan Hays milked the role of the bumbling birdman Papageno for maximum comedy. He is an equally adept actor and singer. When his bass-baritone matched up with Amber Opheim’s (Papagena) sweet soprano in the famous “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa” duet (in which they sing “Pa-Pa” at least 48 times), they gave the more exquisite duets between Tamino and Pamina some genuine competition.

Mattaliano, the general director of the Portland Opera (his contact was renewed this spring), as well as stage director of this production, never let a chance for drama or comedy lose its footing in the brilliant music.

A couple of instances stood out where art outweighed political correctness. One was the role of Monostatos, who played the goofy Moor (how many goofy Moors are there in the repertoire?) bringing buffo stereotypes to mind. Still, Peter Blanchet’s quicksilver portrayal was lively.

The hoods with which Sarastro’s priests cover Tamino and Papageno’s heads to enable them to undergo their initiation trials might have rattled some of the audience. Shades of terrorism? Well, Mattaliano could care less. This is the opera, not 21st-century politics.

Even if The Magic Flute lacks the unity and profundity of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, it delivers a delightful giddiness, that when well executed as it was here, fails to grow old.

Angela Allen



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