Opera in Williamsburg ventured into new territory in its recent production of Mozart’s charming “Magic Flute,” seen Tuesday in the Kimball Theatre.
It offered its largest cast (15 singers), largest chamber orchestra (15 musicians), and enhanced visuals. In the past, OiW has focused on the musical-vocal quality of performance and not so much costumes or set and lighting design. While some costumes have been used, many more have taken on the look of street-type clothes, or so it has appeared.
Certainly emphasizing quality musical value is paramount and right and, for the most part, it has served OiW well. But, in honesty, there have been times where more effort in costuming and the like would have enhanced overall impact. Deciding to offer “Magic Flute” may have been what inspired the emphasis on visuals, given “Flute’s” elements of fancy. That’s why countless companies spend lots of money on costumes, elaborate scenery and anything to propel “Flute’s” imaginative lure.
For this “Flute,” costume designer Eric Lamp drew from a huge New York collection of costumes and assembled an assortment of colorful wear that, while not the wild and crazy type seen in most contemporary productions, did provide visual interest, a few hitting the fantasy target spot on.
Matthew Ishee’s lighting and special effects likewise enhanced and advanced “Flute’s” whimsy. Ever so briefly, and not getting bogged down in symbolism and themes relating to Freemasonry and the Age of Enlightenment, not to mention anti-feminism, “Flute” traces the path of Tamino and Pamina as they seek truth and love and a parallel accounting of Tamino’s sidekick, Papageno, and his ultimate quest and fulfillment of the same.
It’s a series of events and trials by such as fire and water and silence, all overcoming evil and injustice, all ending happily ever after. Sung in German with English supertitles, “Flute” is a “singspiel“ opera that is partly sung and spoken. Here, OiW delivered the spoken parts in English, which was a clever idea had everyone clearly projected the lines.
Such was not uniformly the case, which caused a number of “spiel” moments to drag.However, the “sing” portions took flight. In “Flute,” there are no small parts; everyone sings. This cast, many with exposure at the Met and other large venues, excelled in aces, making this, I believe, the best yet of OiW’s 14 productions.
Unfair as it is to single out a few in a cast so super, space demands that. Tenor Pavel Suliandziga (Tamino) and soprano Kearstin Brown (Pamina) were vocally well paired as the lovers; St. Petersburg-born Denis Sedov (Sarastro, high priest) offered one of those awesome basement-deep basses associated with Russian men; soprano Laura Leon was a dynamite Queen of the Night, ripping off her horribly difficult Act II coloratura aria with pinpoint accuracy; and tenor Patrick Shelton was an evil and well sung Monostatos. Soprano Megan Pachecano was delightful and charming Papagena, which brings me to baritone Suchan Kim as her guy and Tamino’s sidekick, Papageno.
Kim defined a singing actor. He made the role his. In fact, he was a take home memory, so total was his amusing portrayal. He embraced the fun, while offering a rich, full voice that overflowed with warmth and lots of appeal.
Stage director Eve Summer made intelligent use of the limited stage space, smartly keeping action moving on, off and about. As usual, rear screen projections added color and depth to the production, these selected by OiWs founder Naama Zahavi-Ely. Music director Jorge Parodi and musicians were on top of the score, proving that a pit orchestra of 50 or so is not necessary to deliver thoughtfulness, effervescence and joy to Mozart’s delightfully enchanting “Magic Flute.”
Given the standard set here, we eagerly await next season’s schedule of Bizet‘s “Pearl Fishers” and Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."