February 27, 2012

Joy and Glee in Mozart’s Magic Flute

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Mozart’s most beloved opera comes to life in Ithaca College Theatre’s presentation of The Magic Flute, which chronicles Prince Tamino and the birdcatcher Papageno’s search for true love and enlightenment. This performance mixes the original German libretto and an English translation, resulting in a clear presentation of the story for the English-speaking audience while still remaining respectful of the original material. The performances are all impressive, particularly that of the Queen of the Night and Papageno, and the orchestra more than achieves the beauty of Mozart’s score.

After seeing a picture of the beautiful Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, Tamino falls instantly in love with her and vows to help her escape from the clutches of Sarastro, the leader of the Temple and sworn enemy of the Queen of the Night. However, not all is as it seems; while the Queen of the Night generously gives Tamino a magic flute which only has to be played to protect him from danger and begs him to rescue her daughter, Sarastro reveals her evil nature to the prince and Pamina. Sarastro agrees to release Pamina, but only after Tamino and Papageno prove themselves worthy through a series of trials. The opera ends on an optimistic high note, with Tamino and Pamina reaching enlightenment while Papageno achieves his lifelong dream of finding a maiden to share his life with.

The story in and of itself has much to offer, with its warming themes on the power of love, knowledge and music. Director David Lefkowich has decided to highlight the tension between the evil Queen of the Night and Sarastro by keeping the text and libretto of Sarastro, Monostatos and the other priests in the temple in the original German while the Queen, the Three Ladies, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno sing in English. Tamino initially trusts the Queen of the Night when she declares that Sarastro is the villain and not she, an opinion that is only reinforced by the unsettling atmosphere Tamino encounters in the Temple. In the program, Lefkowich notes, “by setting the text of Sarastro in German, it allows Tamino to at first find Sarastro’s temple unfamiliar and the characters untrustworthy.” Indeed, the unfamiliar language also disorients the audience, as up until this point, the dialogue and singing has all been in English. But slowly, the audience along with Tamino comes to realize Sarastro’s true goodness and to value the beauty and knowledge that he represents.

Of course, the story would mean nothing without first-rate performances and acting, and it is here that the production truly delivers. All the characters match the appropriate talent, notably the amusing Papageno and the Queen of the Night, whose famous aria was not only pitch perfect but also terrifying in its earnest desire for vengeance and death. Mozart’s score for The Magic Flute contains some of the most vocally demanding arias in opera, with the Queen’s aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) reaching the dizzying height of a high F, the very top of a soprano’s range, to the unbelievably low F that is required in Sarasto’s arias on several occasions. But it is easy to forget these technicalities while watching the performance; the singers are not only comfortable with the score, but they bring it to life with genuine feeling.

Many people hold the opinion that opera is a starched, antiquated art form, and, unfortunately, there are many performances that reinforce this assertion. However, this is not one of them. Papageno had the audience laughing more than once at his antics and contorted facial expressions. The Queen’s stage presence is so powerful, it is difficult to focus on the other characters when she is singing or speaking.

The orchestra was equally impressive. While the pit accommodated a fraction of the players usually found in such performances, the whole hall was filled with Mozart’s splendid music. The flute solos were particularly beautiful, and the conducting was dazzlingly enthusiastic, a show to watch in and of itself. Overall, everyone involved did a wonderful job in respecting Mozart’s work while creating a sweet and enjoyable performance for the audience.

Performances run this week, Feb. 28, March 1 and 3, at 8 p.m. at the Hoerner Theatre in Dillingham Center.

Original Author: Lubabah Chowdhury