'Magic Flute' hits the right notes -- except for the dramatic ones

By Joan Reinthaler
Monday, November 1, 2010

Catholic University's Opera Theater offered four performances of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at the Hartke Theatre this past weekend with four different casts. Friday's performance was generally well sung (expertly in the case of Sun A. Yeo's Pamina) but, except for the shenanigans of a delightfully agile and zany Papageno and an obnoxious Monastatos, dramatically inert.

The balance between fairy tale and ritual in this opera is always a crapshoot and, although audiences love fanciful animals and flying spirits, Mozart's Masonic message tipped that balance here. There were some light moments besides Alex Indelicato's well-sung turn as Papageno the bird-catcher and Michael Brown's Monastatos. Monica Harwood's appearance in the opera's last minutes as the frenetic Papagena and the slithery snake that had its two minutes of glory in the opening scene reminded us that this was, after all, a fairy tale.

Eric Gramatges's Tamino (earnest, pure and in pursuit of Pamina) came to life in his arias. He has a voice that is smooth throughout his range, and although he seemed to tire at the end, he was able to inject a gratifying warmth and intensity to his role. When he wasn't singing, however, he was a lump, as were many in the cast. Yeo's beautifully voiced Pamina suffered from this same inertness as did Damian Savarino's sonorous Sarastro, and the guards and the priests.

Conductor David Searle contributed also by leaving gaps between the scenes just long enough to kill whatever momentum had accumulated. His orchestra, however, did an admirable job throughout, particularly the flutist, whose timing was outstanding.

Friday's (and Sunday's) Queen of the Night was soprano Jessica Bachicha, a PhD candidate at Catholic University and an up-and-coming recording star in the Charlotte Church mold. She is blind but navigated the set -- with its many steps -- with ease and grace. She also nailed the highest notes of her famous aria (and drew the greatest applause). But the Queen of the Night is not her role, at least not yet. Her voice is pretty but not commanding and, at this point, she seems able to project only a narrow emotional range.

The trio of spirits, who seemed to have no obvious role in this production, sang with an irritating edginess while the trio of queen's assistants were a well balanced and nicely modulated ensemble. The direction was in the hands of Jay D. Brock and the simple but effective set was designed by Dominic Traino.

CU's new president and all-around good sport, John Garvey, made a cameo appearance at the beginning to introduce the opera and produced, credibly, several of the lowest notes of Sarastro's "O Isis and Osiris" aria, much to the delight of the largely CU-connected crowd.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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