Salzburg Marionette Theater
The notion of performing marionettes from Austria might bring to mind the song "The Lonely Goatherd" from "The Sound of Music." Yet the enjoyable opera performance of the Salzburg Marionette Theater on Tuesday evening at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was something more refined. This dedicated group turned what could have been a purely whimsical display of skilled puppetry to a more carefully crafted, unique, and -- at times -- emotional rendering of Mozart's "Magic Flute."
Throughout, the company of puppeteers hidden above the small stage wielded the ornately costumed wooden figures with febrile energy and grace. A vibrant recording of the opera piped in through a strong sound system provided the music, while lighting and backdrops as carefully planned as those for any full-scale opera set an appealing framework for the marionette characters.
It certainly helped that Mozart's 1791 opera strongly lends itself to this kind of depiction. The work tells a story of faith and devotion, set in a fantasy world of castles, murky swamps and dark caves. Colorful characters weave in and out, from the charming prince Tamino to a lovelorn birdman Papageno to the evil mother Queen of the Night.
Initially, it was the sheer wonder at seeing the figures move so realistically, in so many ways, that provided the juice for this performance. In an early aria, for instance, the Tamino marionette expresses the texts with outstretched arms and tilted head. The three maidens of the Queen move fluidly to padlock the mouth of a sassy Papageno or flirtatiously entice the Prince.
As the performance unfolded and that initial wonderment wore off, there was a synergy between the lighter and more serious sides of the opera.
The staging imbued the appearance of the high priest Sarastro with enormous power, while earlier a more cartoonlike set of animals skittered across the stage, raising cackles from the audience.
The musical background was a luminous mid-1950s recording of Mozart's opera from the RIAS Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the great Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay, with a youthful Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Papageno, Josef Greindl as Sarastro, Ernst Hafliger as Tamino and Rita Streich as Queen of the Night. The Washington Performing Arts Society sponsored the event.
-- Daniel Ginsberg
Guitarist Pat Metheny didn't have much to say at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Tuesday night, but he did smile a lot -- and with good reason, given the music his band was able to unearth and unveil.
Touring with his trio and guest saxophonist David Sanchez, Metheny took advantage of the reedman's presence to revisit tunes he recorded with Ornette Coleman on their 1985 collaboration, "Song X." A 20th-anniversary edition of that recording was released earlier this year, complete with six performances that didn't appear on the original release, including the thematically jagged "Police People" and the calypso-flavored "The Good Life."
Performed back to back on Tuesday, these tunes fueled an exhilarating interlude, charged with brash guitar and tenor sax weaves, romping solos and the skittish pairing of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez. The Puerto Rican-born saxophonist also helped temper the mood, first when teaming with Metheny on a reflective ballad that alluded to his Caribbean roots, then when conjuring echoes of Southern soul music on a tribute, as yet untitled, to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Metheny opened with a lovely, folk-tinged solo acoustic set in which he played three instruments -- a nylon string guitar, a baritone guitar and his 42-string Pikasso, similar to a harp guitar. The trio set that followed included some familiar tunes, including a freewheeling arrangement of "Question and Answer." Yet what set this performance apart from the group's recent visits was the sound of Sanchez's expressive tenor and the vibrant reminders of the Coleman-Metheny connection.
-- Mike Joyce