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Startlingly young singers often took leading operatic roles in Mozart’s day, and consequently they often earned legendary halos in the process. Curtis Opera Theater simply continued that tradition with its production of Die Zauberfloete at the Prince Theater. Winningly so, too, for the opera is about many things, among them young love finding its footing in a world of distractions and ephemera.
Did the librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder have that in mind, or was he writing a romp, an entertainment with no heavy lifting for audiences looking for fun in the suburbs? Something for everybody? But Mozart did indeed write everything for everyone— powerful music for singers, rich instrumental scenes, emotion, vigor, ebullience, reference, imagination..
For Curtis’s young singers, the roles were apt, and the music was taxing at the extremes of the range and winning in the writing for middle range-voices. Voices mature a little later now, perhaps because of improved nutrition, the trend of studying in colleges and singers’ eagerness to sing glamour roles early. A booming bass or a fearless coloratura soprano remain rare delights. This cast had only two substantial voices to carry the piece: baritone Jonathan Beyer (Papageno) and soprano Heidi Melton (First Lady). Nevertheless, all these singers brought proportion and context to difficult writing, and maturity to their stagecraft.
Beyer anchored the center: His Papageno was a model of articulation, but also of nuanced singing. An able comedian, he was musically arresting and brightly funny, his timing in both boosting the opera’s impact. On the first night, Queen of the Night Rinnat Moriah sang those two devilish arias with admirable accuracy and energy, hearing her audience exhale noticeably after her high notes. Designers David Zinn and Meredith Palin dressed her with starry halo, a reference to 18th-Century costuming. DeAndre Simmons (Sarastro) seems on the way to developing a firm bass, one that can command the stage while instrumental wonders surround him. For now, it’s light and variable.
The young lovers, Rhoslyn Jones and Brendan Patrick Gunnell, imagined their roles well and sang them with anonymous voices. Still, they had the freshness to erase any questions about the plot’s flips and flops. Jones, as Pamina , was dressed like illustrator Sir John Tenniel’s view of Alice in Wonderland— a comment on the surreal nature of the plot but also on her intonation.
What to do with Monostatos,the Moor who constantly threatens to abduct Pamina? Director Emma Griffin made him a woolly beast with horns, his presence a total mystery. In a tiny mimed prologue, Pamina was kidnapped by Monostatos and dragged under the curtain, an odd piece of street crime to preface a fantasy. Griffin’s stage lightly suggested a forest. Her apparent premise: People in legends go into the forest and emerge transformed. If only that were true of voices, for her cast lacked strong definable singing.
The best of the evening was the orchestra. Conductor Rossen Milanov’s mastery of the score translated itself into colorful, nuanced and accurate playing that floated up from the pit. These performances showed a company of finely coached young performers with stage presence and evolving voices.
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