BY ALAN SHERROD
Imagine being a young singer with lyrical ambitions, ready to make the most of an undergraduate or graduate opera program to provide a stepping stone into the professional world, when all of a sudden… it all stops abruptly. This was the predicament for opera theater students at the University of Tennessee when the Covid-19 pandemic made live performances impossible from March 2020. Fortunately, however, for artists and audiences alike opera, live performances have now returned to the theater stage a year and a half later. Last weekend UTOT made a comeback with a production by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), a work written in singspiel with a libretto by Emmanuel Schikaneder.
The magic flute appears to be the perfect choice for UTOT under the circumstances. He has a number of juicy roles – both comedic and dramatic – for excellent singers / actors, as well as smaller roles and appealing chorus opportunities. Despite its allegorical themes of enlightenment versus ignorance, good versus evil, and its heavy dose of symbolism woven into its fabric, the work is adaptable and modifiable to meet performance requirements. Granted, the plot features an often confusing concoction of spoken dialogue, arias, and debauchery comedy, along with an expectation and need for visual effects. But, it also has an important trump card, the addictive melodic and beautifully satisfying music of Mozart.
In the same way as their last UTOT The magic flute production in 2015, director James Marvel and music director / conductor Kevin Class wisely chose to make music and dialogue cuts that tightened the plot, reduced runtime, and added interest. comical. Again, Marvel chose a simple set of platforms and steps, but with the addition of panels that provided a projection surface for DJ Pike’s colorful and intriguing video visuals. John Horner’s crisp lighting worked well with the projections, and Glenn Avery Breed’s costumes supported the light versus dark pattern of the underlying theme.
In keeping with UTOT custom, this production was primarily dual-cast across all four performances, providing performance opportunities for as many singers as possible. However, the two actors seemed remarkably balanced in levels of comedic delivery, dramatic range, stage presence, and overall vocal quality.
Adriel Baralt Jimenez and Tim Pope sang the lead tenor role of Tamino. As well as physically resembling each other, the two singers had incredibly appealing voices, charming demeanor, clear German diction, and a strong dramatic heroic presence. Jimenez’s lyrical tenor matched his passionate interpretation. Pope brought in a likeable romantic character backed by remarkable vocal power across his wide vocal range.
Sabrina Cherrington sang alongside Jimenez as Princess Pamina, while Pope was paired with Mikeila McQueston. The two sopranos brought impressive lyrical vocal strength to a fairytale-like performance of a princess. The dramatic Pamina de Cherrington was strong and purposeful. The McQueston Princess was a bit more submissive to the forces of fate, while hinting at a subtle force of determination.
Dressed in a feathered outfit in the greenish / yellow vein was the bird catcher Papageno, a comedic role written for Mozart librettist / producer Emanuel Schikaneder, featured here by Jacob Lay, Joel Brown and James Hooper Stevens.
[Note: Reviewer attended the performances of Friday evening and Sunday evening.]
Lay and Stevens offered slightly different comedic approaches to Papageno in the structure of Marvel’s animated staging for the character, but both are singers with strong comedic abilities built around physicality and strong vocal projection. . Lay’s bass-baritone had an attractive silky feel; Baritone Stevens was beautifully rich throughout his range.
Rather, the role of the Queen of the Night is known as one of the most problematic roles in opera to perform and perform. The aria from Act II “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” features a two-octave scale extending to a high F and forces the singer to cover a range of emotions, including angry rage. . Fortunately, UTOT had two sopranos who could handle the lively and demanding scale and coloratura: Hannah Alfaro and Madison Mackey. Dressed in a stunning midnight blue-purple dress with a matching headdress, the two singers had mastered the dramatic contrast between the eerie lamentation of Act I and the raw aria anger of Act II. Alfaro’s vocal precision in this tune was truly impressive. As Papagena, Papageno’s future romantic companion was Abigail Schlictmann, who took the comedic touches from director Marvel to the verge of Vaudeville madness.
As Sarastro in all four performances, bass Will Ryan. Ryan’s velvety, rich voice was the perfect foundation for a characterization that was the epitome of retained dignity. The role of Monostatos was sung by Shaquille St. John.
And then there is the comic genius of opera that is Kevin Burdette. Bass, originally from Knoxville and currently on the Metropolitan Opera’s list in Boris Godunov and a frequent performer at the Santa Fe Opera and other operas in the United States, recently joined the singing faculty of the UT School of Music. I can assume that it didn’t take much of an arm twist to get him to take on the role of the temple spokesperson that he and Marvel developed and adapted into a comedic relief vehicle that is full of inner jokes. It made good use of Burdette’s incredible talent for physical comedy and his innate sense of timing. Without a doubt, Herr Mozart would have approved.
“Threes” plays an important role in the Masonic references of Mozart and Schikaneder from the first three chords of the overture. There are the three “Ladies”, the three “Spirits”, as well as the three flats of E flat major which cross the score. Kylie Humber, Christine Alfano and Gianna Grigalonis in one cast sang the three ladies – Karen Wemhoener, Alfano and Grace Decious in the other. The three punk spirits were Claudia DellaSantina, Logan Williams, Hannah Cipriana Casman, Teyah Young, Ruth Ann Bendy and Faith Nevarez. The men in armor were Jackson Guthrie, and Joel Brown and James Hooper Stevens every other night.
Led by conductor Kevin Class, the UT Symphony Orchestra (or at least half of it, the other half in chamber orchestra service) was in the pit, demonstrating solid balance, playing endurance and sounding good.