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Ionarts in Santa Fe: 'The Magic Flute'

Ekaterina Siurina (Pamina) and Charles Castronovo (Tamino) in The Magic Flute, Santa Fe Opera, 2010 (photo by Ken Howard)
The overture of the Santa Fe Opera’s anachronistic production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute began with the picturesque backdrop of the setting sun behind the Jemez Mountains and equally colorful birds mounted on sticks poised for flight on a minimalist stage. Once past some sour brass chords in the Adagio, comic elements burst forth in the fugal Allegro with syncopated accents on the turn motif later found in the Queen of the Night’s famous Der Hölle Rache aria, and an upward flute line capturing the first solo of the work.

The somewhat dry acoustic of the Crosby Theater (named after SFO founder John Crosby), due to its fascinating semi-open air design and lack of walls, allows for every detail to be heard, especially in some of the sweet spots for the singers near the front of the stage. Indeed, during the last week of July the Concert Hall Research Group of world’s top acousticians held their quadrennial Summer Institute in Santa Fe and were given a backstage tour of the Crosby Theater by the architect of the current facility. One physicist in attendance regarded the facility as “truly amazing.”

available at Amazon
Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Akademie für Alte Musik, R. Jacobs

(release on September 14, 2010)
High points of the production (last seen at Santa Fe in 2006) included the three ladies’ humorous killing of a serpent giant enough to comfortably allow Tamino (Charles Castronovo) to sing from inside the snake’s mouth; the strong yet agile baritone of Joshua Hopkins' Papageno coupled with a strong musical and acting rapport with his Pamina, Ekaterina Siurina; and the depths of Andrea Silvestrelli's bass instrument as Sarastro. Pamina’s Ach, ich fühl's aria probed sadness in a profound, wistful pianissimo. Castronovo’s elegant tenor voice, with a reedy yet creamy resonance and large, unforced passagio, did not make up for a lack of dramatic conviction to signify his enlightened transformation, which by the opera’s end was mostly signified by his lack of clothing and shoes. Indeed, his attire eventually devolved from a medieval jumper and riding boots to a "wifebeater" sleeveless shirt and bare feet.

Other Reviews:

Heidi Waleson, Santa Fe's Busy 'Tales,' Bloody 'Butterfly,' Tinny 'Flute' (Wall Street Journal, August 14)

Sarah Bryan Miller, Santa Fe Opera: Benign "Magic Flute," flawed "Life is a Dream" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 9)

Scott Cantrell, 'The Magic Flute' at Santa Fe is welcome, if not the best we've seen (Dallas Morning News, August 6)

Kyle MacMillan, Santa Fe Opera storms into season (Denver Post, July 18)

James M. Keller, 'Magic Flute' enlightens and enchants (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 4)
In this production, the Queen of the Night assumed a character role closer in temperament to that of the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe than a supernatural being one must fear. Apprentice Lindsay Ohse, standing in for an indisposed Erin Morley in this difficult role, was not perfect but should be applauded for a fine attempt. Conductor Lawrence Renes, seen at Santa Fe in Tan Dun's Tea, was not entirely effective due to his limited connection to the orchestra, which progressively diminished further in correlation to his flailing, unnoticed gestures. Lastly, the hokey rhymes of the dialogue, translated into English, in combination with Sarastro’s stiff acting and halting English, similar to vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger films, left one disappointed. Albeit, there were a large number of children in attendance for whom the English dialogue would have been a helpful component.

Charles's 2006 review of this production by stage director Tim Albery details the anachronism of costumes that distract from the larger themes of the opera: Sarastro and the priests in 18th-century costumes, Monostatos and his henchmen as Nazi soldiers, the Queen of the Night and the three ladies as Elizabethan noblewomen, Papageno as the Ugly American Tourist, Tamino as a Renaissance prince, and Pamina as a 50s Annette Funicello. Charles did not mention the costumes of the three spirits: boys bizarrely dressed in orange robes as Hare Krishna ascetics with latex cap and all: perhaps the connection to the opera is that the Indian God Krishna plays the flute. The most outstanding music, particularly the works of J. S. Bach, can sound wonderful even when butchered. The Magic Flute contains such exceptional music that even if it were set on an ant farm or in South Park, the delightful experience of the music would suffice.

Performances of The Magic Flute continue at Santa Fe Opera through August 27.

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