The Magic Flute
Florida Grand Opera is currently presenting "Die Zauberflöte," also known as "The Magic Flute," by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as part of its current season.
This timeless classic is really not an opera at all, but rather a "singspiel." This basically means that a good portion of the show is spoken rather than sung, much in the style of operetta or modern musical theater.
Written in 1791, "Die Zauberflöte" is Mozart’s last stage work to be completed before his death and one of his best loved works and this current production, while far from perfect, makes a highly entertaining evening.
The plot of this opera is very convoluted. It takes place in a fantasy world where there are princes and princesses, evil queens, good priests and all sort of other interesting characters that come across in the storyline. The opera is notable for the many symbols of freemasonry that are prevalent in its plot.
The two stars of the evening were Andrew Bidlack who played the hero, Tamino and Lisette Oropesa, who played his lady love, Pamina.
Bidlack’s tenor voice is crystal clear and has a beauty of tone not often found in Mozart tenors. He is charming and handsome and makes the perfect storybook prince for this fantasy opera role.
Oropesa was beyond fantastic in her portrayal of Pamina. She has a lovely, large and clear soprano voice. This role is usually overshadowed by her mother, the Queen of the Night, but Oropesa far out-sang and out-acted any other female on the stage. Her rendering of the aria "Ach, ich fühls" was poignant and heart-renderingly beautiful. Everything she sang during the performance was note perfect and beautiful.
The most famous role of this opera is the Queen of the Night and the most recognizable piece for most audience members is her act two Vengeance aria. Mozart wrote this role for his sister-in-law, Josepha Weber, who was a famous coloratura soprano of the late 17th century. The role, while very small with only three stage appearances in the course of the night, is a very demanding one requiring a very agile and high voice.
Jeanette Vecchione, who plays the Queen in this current production, has a very high voice with beautiful high notes, but in the performance I saw, she was less than perfect. It sounded as if she might be fighting a cold. Her high Ds in the first aria, "O zittre nicht," were shaky, but I attributed this to the fact that the conductor seemed to be pushing her tempos to a near un-singable pace.
Her performance of the act two Vengeance aria, "Der Hölle rache," however was poor. The Vengeance aria has four written in Fs above High C and one optional one which Ms. Vecchione chose to take. While she managed the optional F perfectly, she unfortunately only managed to hit three out of the four Fs that are standard in the score and her coloratura passages at the end of the aria were noticeably off key. I am hoping that the performance I saw was just an off night -- it happens for all singers -- and not the standard to which she normally performs.
In the role of the birdman, Papageno, baritone Jonathan G. Michie gave a funny and well-sung performance, even though he was outfitted in a horrific black pompadour wig. He has a sense of comic timing and was the perfect foil to Bidlack’s prince.
Bass Jordan Bisch was especially notable in his performance of the role of Sarastro, the high priest. Bass voices are frequently difficult to hear unamplified over an orchestra when they are in their lower register and the role of Sarastro is one of the lowest roles in the opera world. Bisch’s voice carried nicely even when he was in the depths of his range and was clearly audible at all times.
While there were standout performers, this production is far from perfect. Aside from Ms. Vecchione, soprano Hye Jung Lee’s portrayal of Papagena was frequently inaudible, her voice being completely overwhelmed by the orchestra.
The opera has roles for three boy sopranos which were played by Andres Larrea, Charles Vega and Salvador Blanco. While I commend these young men for singing this challenging music, going on stage in an opera at a young age and singing in German, the truth of the matter is that they were horribly out of tune with each other and their singing caused my theater companion to cringe whenever they came on stage.
This production is presented in German, including all of the dialogue between the arias. While it is nice to hear this opera in its original language, there are very good singable English translations of this opera available and had FGO used one of them for this production, it might have made this show more accessible to the general public.
I am a fluent German speaker, but my theater companion for the evening was not and he found that reading the supertitles during the dialogue sections of the show hindered his enjoyment of the evening. That being said, the German that was spoken and sung was practically flawless to those who speak the language.
Even with these flaws, the beauty of Mozart’s score makes this opera worth seeing. There has never been a time when "Die Zauberflöte" has fallen out of fashion. The music is timeless, classic and breathtakingly beautiful. This is an opera that is very accessible for children and people who have never been to an opera before. It is rich in music, costuming, scenery and storyline.