At CU, a 'Magic Flute' With Stardust to Spare

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mozart's "Magic Flute" is one of those works that it is possible to love for a lifetime without ever quite figuring out what is going on. Masonic scholars insist that there are many hidden messages for the faithful throughout the opera but most of us will always take it as a big weird fairy tale, both silly and grand, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

The music, at least, is always a joy, and it was worth the trip to Catholic University's Hartke Theater Sunday afternoon to see and hear the Summer Opera Theater Company's new rendition. Staged very simply by Jeffrey Sichel (there is virtually no scenery at all and the opera's first great dramatic moment -- the slaying of the dragon by the Three Ladies -- takes place behind a curtain), this "Magic Flute" nevertheless captures both the charm and the majesty of an odd but ever-appealing work.

From the beginning, Kate Tamarkin's conducting was elegant, energetic and proportionate; her small but well-drilled orchestra simply bloomed, even in the Sahara-dry acoustic ambiance of Hartke Theater. Tenor Robert Baker, who has distinguished himself in so many small parts for Washington National Opera, here took on the plum leading role of Tamino, looking every inch the dashing Prince and singing with rapt ardor.

Joohee Choi, with her big, eagerly expressive eyes and sweetly lyrical soprano voice, made a fetching Pamina. Daniel Collins was a funny, exuberant and enormously likable Papageno. Some of the Queen of the Night's stratospheric high notes sounded rather tight for Elizabeth Honer's voice, and some of Sarastro's deepest notes lay a little low for bass-baritone Kwang-Kyu Lee, although both proved conscientious musicians. Martin Vasquez made an appropriately menacing Monastatos, while Sharon Grant blushed and bubbled delightfully as Papagena.

Special mention should be made of Lisa Archibeque, Chi-Chun Chan and Jessica Medina, for their performances as the spear-carrying Three Ladies. The roles are often turned into campy caricature, but these three sang with melting warmth, as though they had somehow wandered into the final trio of "Der Rosenkavalier."

"The Magic Flute" was sung in German, with spoken dialogue in English -- a paradox no more discombobulating than many others in this decidedly hybrid work. The opera will be repeated on Wednesday and Sunday; information at http://summeropera.org .

All Summer Opera performances this season -- Verdi's "Il Trovatore" arrives next month -- are dedicated to the memory of former Post music critic Joseph McLellan.

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