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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 13, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 19
Seattle Opera scores a hit with Magic Flute
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Opera scores a hit with Magic Flute

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Mozart's Magic Flute
May 7-8
McCaw Hall


With fab costumes designed by Zandra Rhodes, eye-pleasing sets by Robert Dahlstrom and Robert Schaub, hilarious direction by Chris Alexander, and superb, closet-cleaning conducting by Gary Thor Wedow, this new production of an all-too-familiar opera came alive with so much energy and humor that its second-half longeurs seemed to disappear. Also helpful were the skillfully used projections, easily the best I have seen so far at Seattle Opera. A real trick of the eye was the use of a red curtain, just like the real one at McCaw Hall, projected onto a scrim. As it opened, its unreal quality made it seem magical & an altogether appropriate opening to this Magic Flute.

Wedow's early-music-style of conducting swept the cobwebs from the score right from the beginning of the overture. Unexpected accepts and rather spare textures exposed hidden vitality and enlivened the sometimes ponderous moments that arose from too many years of German Romanticism applied by conductors of old. Brisk tempi never seemed rushed, and orchestral balances opened up the sound and never came close to swamping the singers. Especially exciting were the choral moments of the second half. The Seattle Opera Chorus, especially the men's chorus, never sounded better.

The key role of Papageno was superbly handled by both baritones, Philip Cutlip (from Ellensburg) and Leigh Melrose, who sang in the matinee cast. Both had all the right moves for the physical comedy and the charming humanity of the role. Vocally, neither could be faulted. The tenors were almost equally matched also. Each had easy production and attractive voices. Indeed Canadian John Tessier was an ideal Tamino, given that no one these days has the stylistic talent for Mozart like some tenors we've heard long ago. The only way the matinee-cast tenor, Jonathan Boyd, was less ideal was in his tendency to sing too loud, leaving little room for nuance. Both voices were very attractive, and each seemed comfortable on the stage.

Unfortunately, the women did not fare so well. Christine Brandes sang everything loud (with rare but lovely exception) and came to grief in her introspective aria in the second half. She seemed to be trying out for Brunhilde, making the aria quite ugly. Hanan Alattar (matinee cast) had momentary pitch problems in the same aria but otherwise fit the role better by not pushing her smaller voice. The two sopranos singing the Queen of the Night were both impressive and got big ovations after their spectacular arias. Saturday's Emily Hindrichs had the bigger voice and was overall more successful than Mari Moriya in the Sunday matinee. Both had excellent marksmanship, as they say, in the coloratura fireworks department. And both hit the high F above high C on the nose.

Sarastro, the high priest in this Masonic tale, is an amazing part for a sonorous basso profundo. Both Ilya Bannik (Saturday) and Keith Miller (matinee) had the notes, but Bannik did not have the weight figuratively or vocally for this role. Miller seemed indisposed, for his voice was in tatters compared to his appearances in the Met Live in HD shows we're seen him in. Even so, he was a more convincing Sarastro that Bannik, who seemed too young and tended to rush the solemn music.

I took an 11-year-old boy on Saturday to his first opera. He, like everyone else in the audience, loved every minute of it. (He also thought the press room was 'Awesome!') Although the Met's newest version (a 'reduction' by Julie Taymor to about 90 minutes) is wonderful, I was happy to see that Seattle Opera's excellent attempt could be as fascinating and downright fun while nonetheless cutting little or nothing.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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