Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
Through May 22 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church
It seems you get a pass for slipping in a bit of shut-eye during an Sunday afternoon spent in a church; the folks watching Opera Vivente's last show of the season, The Magic Flute laughed at appropriate times and spent much time applauding but eyes still fluttered during the three-hour long production at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
Mozart's 1791 The Magic Flute features a convoluted, complicated, strange German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder that doesn't have so much to do with a magic flute as much as the power dynamics between men and women. Opera Vivente's set, though, makes it immediately apparent that the company has updated the story, anchored as it is by three large and movable letters in white: H O N.
Yup, there's a Baltimore twist to The Magic Flute including Utz and Boh props, three lady Hons, and a lead character decked out in full Oriole fan gear, Papageno (John Dooley). While the audience appeared to dig these hometown touches, they really had nothing to do with the plot, making it feel like shtick for shtick’s sake.
Papageno, a goofy drinky Bawlmoron with such a heavy local accent he sounded Scottish, sort of helps along Flute's story. Handsome prince Tamino (Frédéric Ray) must save Pamina (Leah Inger), the daughter of the Queen of the Night (Joy Greene), from the heavy Sarastro (David B. Morris) and his henchman Monostatos (J. Austin Bitner), who run some sort of intellectual organization/brotherhood. And like any good thriller, many obstacles stand in Tamino's way while two groups of female singers help him--the previously mentioned trio of Hons (Heather Michele Meyer, Jennifer Blades, and Dina Martire) and three young Spirits (Moran Beidleman, Elana Bell, and Veronica Page), who are decked out like pre-pregnant Hampden high-schoolers constantly texting on their cell phones.
Opera is all about the music, and the orchestra here is led by Jed Gaylin, Music Director of Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, who kept the glorious strings and winds on a tight rein, filling the soaring cathedral ceiling of the Mount Vernon church without overpowering the voices on stage. The singers were all extraordinary, adding personality and flare to their characters.
What dulled the performance—and ultimately made the three-hour production feel longer—was the number of steps it takes for the characters to get to finish line. In the second part of the first act, Papageno finds Pamina to tell her Tamino is coming to save her. They run away—right into Tamino and all the bad guys at the same time. Tamino is informed that he has to go through three trials in order to be set free from the brotherhood--or is it to become a part of it? If the latter, why does Tamino want to be a part of a nasty group that kidnapped the woman he now loves? And that's all before the intermission. Modernizing the story as well as the set might have made it more intelligible and engaging for the audience.