Virginia Opera’s whimsical but faithful ‘Magic Flute’

December 8, 2013

There was a disco ball and boogieing, ancient mythical creatures and a golden hippo, and a touch of “Matrix” slow-motion choreography in the Virginia Opera’s whimsical yet faithful musical production of “The Magic Flute” on Friday evening at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts.

Mozart’s final opera unfolded in the present day in English translation, telling the story of a troubled couple who fall asleep and become Tamino and Pamina in dreams. Director Michael Shell used the opening overture to establish the scene onstage, and while purists may have thought it gimmicky, the transition from the 21st century to Renaissance times worked.

In her company debut, Nadine Sierra played Pamina with earnest expression and depth of character. With her fluid soprano ringing in the hall at all dynamic levels, she sculpted her arias in beautiful phrases, and the orchestra — comprising Virginia Symphony members conducted by Mark Russell Smith — supported her musicality.

As Tamino, tenor Matthew Plenk sang heroically, particularly when he lamented the loss of Pamina. His sidekick, Papageno, played by baritone David Pershall, was a delight, whether reading “Playbird” magazine, humming with his mouth “padlocked” with a pacifier, or being pursued by Amanda Opuszynski’s Papagena in disguise as an elderly woman.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg portrayed a regal Sarastro, his warm singing unfortunately overpowered by the orchestra in his lower register. As his nemesis, soprano Heather Buck muscled through the Queen of the Night’s fiery aria with spot-on pitches in the coloratura. Also sparkling in each of their roles, the supporting cast rounded out a fine performance.


The Virginia Opera's production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." (David A. Beloff)

Jean is a freelance writer.

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