Corrections or additions?
This article review by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the July 4,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Opera Review: `The Magic Flute’
The Opera Festival of New Jersey’s "Magic
which opened this year’s summer season on Saturday, June 23, is a
production at odds with itself. As directed by Gina Lapinski, its
excellent musical qualities fail to be reflected in the misguided
visual offerings of designer John Coyne. Moreover, its presentation
in English (drawing translations from three separate stock sources)
is a double liability.
To be sure, this Mozart opera, now more than two centuries old,
challenges. Still, it is such a marvel of deft musical writing,
poised ensembles, and fairy-tale atmosphere that its detracting
can be discounted. The path to enjoying the opera consists in staying
calm in the face of Masonic allusions that so provoked the authorities
in the 1790s; ignoring the confusion that arises when good and evil
morph into their opposites; and ignoring the sexist dialogue that
still appears outrageous two centuries after it was conceived.
Yet Mozart’s musical ebullience came through generously in the OFNJ
opener. Performed by an ensemble possessed of excellent voices and
a refined sense of teamwork, the company delighted a full house at
Princeton’s McCarter Theater.
Almost all the principal performers turned in outstanding
Notable was Joseph Kaiser as the irrepressible bird catcher Papageno.
Comfortably combining a supple voice and supple acting he unaffectedly
communicated the openness and honesty of his character. Jacqueline
Venable as Pamina showed a remarkable talent for turning the princess
into a warm and emotional presence. Venable’s ability to convey love
and yearning was in the details as she, for example, lingered lovingly
on the second syllable of Tamino’s name in a triumph of subtlety;
particularly moving was her second act aria of despair. The balance
and musicality of the Papageno-Pamina duets was outstanding.
Justin Vickers as Prince Tamino was a musically accurate consort for
Venable’s Pamina, ardent and earnest. Lorraine Ernest (the ultimately
evil Queen of the Night) managed to reach all but one of her perilous
high notes. One of the peak moments of the evening came during her
second act aria, when supertitles were withheld and the full impact
of her precise singing reached the audience unimpeded. Kaiser,
Vickers, and Ernest all made their OFNJ debuts at this "Magic
Not quite up to the ensemble standard was Stephen Humes as Sarastro,
whose initial menacing presence masks his goodness. Humes, also making
his OFNJ debut, was notably more wooden than the other principals
and his very lowest notes were not comfortably within his grasp.
Performers not specifically mentioned, like those singled out, also
handled their roles with spirit and individuality. The vocal ensembles
were in tune, transparent, and musically on target.
A happy visual-musical effect came in the casting of three women as
the three spirits. Although the roles are usually sung by boys, the
three small women who played them here, Suzanne Anderson, Ereni
and Sage Lutton, were effectively graduated in size. Their clear
made a balanced blend as they performed with the entertaining
of children reciting by rote concepts that they didn’t quite
OFNJ music director Patrick Hansen conducted and saw to solid
support for the company in general, though in the overture the
repeatedly arrived at the second beats in a measure before the first
beat had settled down. Associate conductor Richard Tang Yuk will
performances on Friday, July 6, and Thursday, July 19.
The choice to present "The Magic Flute" in English, with
supertitles, raises the general question of departing from the
language of opera. Setting aside my taste for the original language,
with English titles, I have additional complaints regarding this
The translation is no more than adequate, attributed only to the
G. Schirmer, rather than to a particular individual. Supertitles come
from Bayshore Opera Translations. And not only is the match between
singing and supertitles imperfect, but frequent inversions of ordinary
English speech made the supertitles stumble, rather than flow.
A particularly flagrant example was the supertitle
to be read "Who by this law is led aright." In addition to
the tortured word order, the word "led" was erroneously
by the word "fed." Similarly uncaught was the use of the word
"gladness" in a supertitle when the word "sadness"
was sung. The spoken dialogue translation came from publisher Boosey
The biggest barrier to this production soaring were vital visual
John Coyne’s sets were hard-edged geometric abstractions with minimal
detail. Perversely, their lack of clues about scale robbed the stage
of depth and intruded on the space of the auditorium. Furthermore,
the angularity of the scenic design was, to these eyes, at odds with
the roundedness of Mozart’s music.
Coyne’s imaginative fictional animals, on the other hand, were a
A lithe four-person serpent and four filmy oversized insects had a
visual lightness, emphasized by their movement. The appearance of
the playful bugs was greeted by laughter.
Other visual elements in the production were just plain silly. The
Queen’s three ladies wore frumpy wigs of harsh colors at war with
their dresses. Papageno had pitifully few feathers adorning his tan
costume, though his bill-backwards baseball cap provocatively joined
present-day dress to the 18th century. Sarastro and his minions,
of light, wore dark blue gowns of a sleazy-looking fabric reminiscent
of last week’s high school graduations. The pink of Tamino and
clothing was a low-impact color. Patricia Hibbert did the costume
Missing were vivid visual representations of the trials by darkness,
fire, and water that Tamino undergoes to earn Pamina’s hand. Also
missing was any motivation for Papageno and Tamino’s random removal
and replacement of the black face-masks during the ordeal scenes.
An audio-described performance of the opera, intended to assist the
visually impaired, has been scheduled. For the enjoyment of this
knowing what is to be seen is not necessarily an asset. All audiences
might benefit by down-playing the visual aspects of the production
and concentrating primarily on the music.
— Elaine Strauss
Theater, 609-258-2787. $22 to $82. Friday, July 6, 8 p.m.; Thursday,
July 19, 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, July 28, 8 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.