Appealing young cast lifts Boston Lyric Opera’s season-opening “Magic Flute”

October 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm

By Angelo Mao

So Young Park as the Queen of the Night in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Photo: Eric Antoniou

Boston Lyric Opera opened its season Friday night with a new English adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute that, as reinterpretations go, largely did not overstep itself. Despite some jarrring changes to the libretto, the performance at the Shubert theatre was buoyed by an appealing Boston-based ensemble cast and a vibrant and striking production.

It’s a bit of a stretch to call the Boston Lyric’s new English adaptation a “world premiere.” Most of the story stays intact, transplanted to ancient Maya, and given a Wizard-of-Oz framing device: Tamino is actually Tommy, an American archaeology student who got bitten by a snake and is hallucinating the entire production. The changed location is actually an excellent choice, providing fodder for a refreshing and cohesive set of visuals, including an arresting serpent that makes more sense than the dragon in Mozart’s original.

The plot changes, on the other hand, are disappointingly unoriginal or happily tame, depending on your point of view. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done already, most famously in Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film adaptation and nothing that isn’t subliminally obvious to begin with.

The most damaging changes in the Lyric Opera’s new version are minor. They involve rewriting the libretto in such a way that word and music become unmoored. For example, in the Queen of the Night’s first aria O zittre nicht, the Queen recounts her daughter’s abduction, reliving her daughter’s unheeded cries for help: “Oh, help! Oh, help!” Mozart’s music underscores the Queen’s sadness and desperation, and it becomes immediately understandable why Tamino would take on this quest to rescue a girl he has never met. These overtones are muffled in the new production, to the detriment of the opera.

Changes to the libretto aside, the Lyric Opera’s production featured a young, assured, and appealing cast. More attention to musical nuances would have been welcome, but the cast made up for it with feeling and energy.

Zach Borichevsky’s Tamino, the hero at the center of the story, suffered from some initial tightness, but later on impressed with a bright, rich tone that bolstered the heroic part of the role.

His counterpart Pamina was sung with warm pliancy by Deborah Selig. Her singing of the upper ranges of the role sounded rushed at times, but this was equally a result of David Angus’s unsympathetic conducting.

As Papageno, Andrew Garland’s baritone was not as impressive as his costars in terms of vocal amplitude, but his warm tone was a great asset to a charismatic portrayal. Chelsea Basler’s bright soprano was a delight in the brief role of Papagena.

David Cushing’s generous sound was a great asset in his role as Sarastro, and Neal Ferreira was a pitiable and loathsome Monostatos.

For better or for worse, performances of The Magic Flute tend to boil down down the Queen of the Night and her five high F’s. Fortunately, So Young Park, though not a domineering Queen, delivered the goods, impressing with her bell-like tone and ease. Her voice is not quite a dramatic soprano—some of the notes in the middle and lower registers lacked thrust—but otherwise her portrayal glittered.

The smaller roles were also satisfactorily filled. The Three Ladies (Meredith Hansen, Michelle Trainor, Nicole Rodin) were funny, conspiratorial, yet distinct. The Three Spirits (Thomas Potts, Timothy O’Brien, Andrew Peruzzi) were downright charming.

In the pit, the Boston Lyric chorus and orchestra delivered clean and well-balanced performances. Conductor David Angus set a brisk pace that ranged from kinetic to rushed. One wished for more time, particularly in the arias, for the human element simply to have time to breathe.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m.  October 9 and 11  and 3 p.m. October 13.

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