Mozartâ€™sÂ Magic FluteÂ is probably his most complex opera,Â both musically and in terms of plot. Artistic directorÂ Donald PippinÂ and Stage DirectorÂ Nicolas AliagaÂ have chosen to present a delightful entertainment which does full justice to the music. However, rather than delve into the philosophical depths of the plot, they have chosen to emphasize its happy and comic elements. In less skillful hands, this approach might become banal, but I found it thoroughly delightful, and it precisely fit my mood on Sunday, March 9, 2014.
The opera premiered in 1791, and is in the form of a Singspiel with both singing and spoken dialogue. The librettist,Â Emanuel Schikaneder, also played the leading comic role of Papageno on opening night. As usual withÂ Pocket Opera, the original German text was freely adapted into English byÂ Donald PippinÂ â€“ with excellent results.
[Digression: This production was the 2ndÂ of 4 that I am seeing and reviewing in a space of a little over 2 years:
June 2012 San Francisco Opera
March 2014 Pocket Opera
May 2014 West Bay Opera
April 2015 Opera San JosÃ©
I donâ€™t want to repeat myself unduly, so forgive me if I donâ€™t include a synopsis of the plot. If you already know the opera, fine; if you donâ€™t you may want to read the synopses in the various companyâ€™s websites or the extensive one onÂ WikipediaÂ before continuing my review â€“ or not.]
I have lived on the peninsula for 21 years, and have been a subscriber to Pocket Opera for all of that time. Many of the performers keep coming back, and I always delight when I look at the program and see more and more names that I recognize and remember. Iâ€™m going to spend most of my review randomly sharing some of that experience.
I saw my firstÂ Pocket OperaÂ in 1994, but the earliest memory of a specific Pocket Opera performer is Michael MendelsohnÂ as the Devil in Stravinskyâ€™s The Soldierâ€™s TaleÂ in 1996. Two years later I first saw him as Monastatos, and again in 2005; this is the third time heâ€™s done it forÂ Pocket Opera. He has a fine tenor voice and is a consummate actor. I have seen him in a great variety of roles, not only withÂ Pocket OperaÂ but withÂ West Bay OperaÂ andÂ Opera San JosÃ© â€“ he is thoroughly believable whatever his role, but I particularly like him as an evil character â€“ the eviler the better.
My first encounter with tenor Jonathan SmuckerÂ was in 2005 when he played the French lover Camille in Pocket Operaâ€™sÂ Merry Widow. That opera has a large number of important supporting roles, but he made an immediate impression on me because of his distinctive face and penetrating eyes. Since then I have enjoyed seeing and hearing him in many roles with many companies â€“ as Don Ottavio inÂ West Bay Operaâ€™sÂ Don Giovanni, as Bardolfo inÂ Opera San JosÃ©â€™sÂ Falstaff, and as Fenton in Pocket Operaâ€™sÂ Merry Wives of WindsorÂ â€“ to mention just a few of them.
I first met mezzoÂ Sonia GariaeffÂ a year earlier as Annio in West Bay Operaâ€™s La Clemenza di Tito, but it was a year later when she played the role of Amoroso in Pocket Operaâ€™sÂ Carnival in VeniceÂ that I first fell in love with her. The combination of her singing and acting was truly outstanding. Since then my heart gives a little jump of pleasure every time I see her name on the program â€“ whether the program beÂ West Bay Opera, Lamplighters, orÂ Pocket Opera.
Hereâ€™s an indication of just how good a castÂ Donald PippinÂ is able to assemble. Last August I saw and reviewedÂ theÂ Lamplightersâ€™ production of Iolanthe starringÂ Molly MahoneyÂ in the title role andÂ Sonia GariaeffÂ as the Fairy Queen. Yet these two stars were willing to accept relatively minor roles as two of the three Ladies of the Night. I was already half in love with Molly from seeing her as Zerlina in Pocket Operaâ€™sÂ Don GiovanniÂ earlier that year. Incidentally, the other Lady of the Night,Â Kelly Britt, fit right in with the two stars â€“ I hope weâ€™ll see her again in future Pocket Opera performances.
The first time I could put a name to his face was whenÂ Jordan EldridgeÂ played the Baron in Pocket Operaâ€™s La TraviataÂ in 2010, but I had seen him in many chorus roles before that. It has been a real pleasure watching and listening to him as he has taken on increasingly major roles leading up to Masetto in Pocket Operaâ€™s Tales of HoffmanÂ last year. But nothing I had seen before prepared me for the outstanding performance he gave Sunday. I rank his singing voice, his speaking voice, and his acting, right up there with any other Papageno I have seen over the many years.
Coincidentally, Olympia in that performance was played by his current Papagena, Chelsea Hollow. I had first seen her last year as a light-hearted Cupid in Pocket Operaâ€™sÂ Orpheus in the Underworld. Sunday as a crone she was suitably shuffling and squeaky-voiced; as the answer to Papagenoâ€™s prayer, she was delightfully sassy and clear-voiced.
Iâ€™m not sure when I first sawÂ Erina Newkirk. It might have been as Emilia in Pocket Operaâ€™s production ofÂ Handelâ€™s FlavioÂ in 2007. Even in that concert-staged version the flexible expressions on her face made an impression. However, I will never forget her performance in the title role of POâ€™sÂ ManonÂ in 2011. Let me quote fromÂ my reviewÂ of that performance:
â€œThere is no question but thatÂ Erina NewkirkÂ was the star of the show. Not only is Manon the title character, but she is on stage most of the opera and has the best musical opportunities â€“ and MsÂ Newkirk was fully up to the part, both musically and dramatically. Many other critics have praised her voice in words better than I can summon. Iâ€™ve no idea how old she is in real life, but on stage in Act IÂ ManonÂ was a vulnerable 15-year-old girl, overflowing with joy during a brief moment between a repressed childhood at home and a confined adult in a convent. I doubt if there was a parent in the audience who didnâ€™t yearn to protect her from the real-life sorrows that they knew awaited her.
â€œIn Act II she did a perfect job of portraying her emotions as she prepares to face Des Grieux and try to dissuade him from becoming a priest. First, the indecision in her face, then a convulsive swallow, a straightening of the shoulders, and a decisive turn and step towards him.â€
That was then. This is now. I was expecting a great performance, and the reality exceeded the expectation. I canâ€™t see enough of this young star.
Although Mozart is well known for his multi-voiced ensembles, I canâ€™t recall any notable examples inÂ The Magic Flute. However, the opera does have a trio of trios. Iâ€™ve already commented on the three Ladies. Their close harmony in both of their scenes was a joy to listen to.
I had previously heard John BischoffÂ as the High Priest Oroveso in Pocket Operaâ€™s 2012 production ofÂ Norma, a role well-fitted to his fine deep-bass voice. Zarastro demands even more of his voice; he meets the demand royally both as a soloist and as the bass member of a male trio with baritoneÂ Sepp Hammer (Speaker) and tenorÂ Anthony Tavianini. Their splendid low harmonies are in startling contrast to the lighter voices of the Ladies.
And even more contrast to the childish voices of the three spirits,Â Margaret Martin,Â Sarah Ancheta, andÂ Emma MacKenzie. As a great-grampa I am tempted to call them â€œadorableâ€, but that would be demeaning. These kids are â€œgoodâ€. They knew their lines, their blocking was perfect, and their voices were a pleasure to listen to. You youngsters in the audience, jot these names down somewhere. Donâ€™t be surprised if you find some of them singing adult roles in a decade or so.
â€œThe comedy is finished.â€ InÂ PagliachiÂ these four words are bitterly sarcastic â€“ here they are to be taken literally and happily. Or a more felicitous expression might be, â€œThe song is ended, but the melody lingers on.â€ But if you live anywhere San Francisco, the news is even better. The comedy will be played once more on Sunday March 23 â€“ same time, same place. Iâ€™ll be there in seat D1. Stop by and say hello during intermission. And donâ€™t miss the remaining 4 performances of this outstanding 37th season ofÂ Pocket Opera.
|QUEEN OF THE NIGHT||SVETLANA NIKITENKO|
|FIRST LADY||KELLY BRITT|
|SECOND LADY||MOLLY MAHONEY|
|THIRD LADY||SONIA GARIAEFF|
Except as stated otherwise, photos byÂ Yen Bachmeier
Tables and photo arrangements byÂ Philip Hodge.
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on March 18, 2014.