Every summer the rustic lawns and gardens of Ash Lawn-Highland Plantation become the site of operatic intrigues presented by the plantation's annual festival. Saturday night, the grounds of this former home of President James Monroe, near Charlottesville, were filled with the memorable melodies of Mozart's "Magic Flute."
The singers, led by conductor Stephen Crout, worked closely together and with the help of a smooth English text (translated from the German by Ruth and Thomas Martin) soon pulled the audience into their story. Michelle Patzakis created a sympathetic heroine as Pamina and displayed a powerful, vibrant soprano. Except for occasional vocal roughness, Robert Baker projected a solid, clear tenor as the hero Tamino but his characterization came across as somewhat stiff and self-righteous.
Dean Anthony almost stole the show as the lecherous Monostatos. He leaped about, spat out his lines with a crisp, clean tenor, and offered a myriad of deranged facial expressions. Leslie Shull, taking on the very high Queen of the Night arias, and Ozie Jamison, essaying the very low Sarastro solos, both gave credible performances in their difficult roles. As the bird-catcher Papageno, Edward Albert created an appealing, humorous character and displayed a warm, pleasant baritone.
In spite of the festival's limited resources, the performers' energetic ensemble work brought the music to life. The festival runs through August, and programming information is available from the box office; call (804) 293-8000.