I don’t just mean that it harks back to 1791, when Mozart’s Singspiel was first performed in Vienna. I mean that it takes Opera Atelier’s audience back to an earlier era, when OA’s sets and costumes were more focused on pomp and splendour than they tend to be these days. The elaborate hooped skirts and brilliant trompe l’oeil scenery were brought out of storage for the third time since Atelier first staged the work in 1991, serving as a reminder of the company’s aesthetic roots.
Of course, every OA production of The Magic Flute since 1991 has been a little different. Director Marshall Pynkoski likes to try out new ideas – and a new cast will inevitably bring a new chemistry to the stage.
So what is this particular Flute like?
It’s a poised and balanced production that’s rather coy about revealing its virtues. Indeed, for the first half, poise and balance seemed to be the show’s chief characteristics – in a pleasant yet limiting way. From the overture, conductor David Fallis seemed to rein in the Tafelmusik orchestra. And although the show is well cast, the singers took a little while to really click with one another.
Happily, in the second half, the musical and dramatic energy was ratcheted up a notch, transforming this Flute into a delight, as it pressed forward towards a triumphal finale.
OA stalwart Colin Ainsworth was on hand to sing the role of Tamino. Always reliable, his clear, bright and supple tenor voice was in fine form. And when his Tamino emerged as a dramatic force, he took his rightful place at the production’s centre.
Soprano Laura Albino, in her OA debut as Pamina, also displayed a clear, bright and supple voice. This made her well matched, vocally, for Ainsworth – yet, dramatically speaking, she never fully inhabited her character. As a result, the emotional temperature of her scenes refused to rise above tepid.
By contrast, Aaron Ferguson’s Monostatos was a scenery-chewing maniac. It was an impressive effort, in its own way – but his over-the-top approach didn’t always connect with Albino’s detached Pamina.
As the Queen of the Night, soprano Ambur Braid sang an Act I aria that was hard to lay a decisive verdict on. Yes, all the notes were there, but there wasn’t much in the way of regal power behind them. However, things changed for the better for her return in Act II. This time, her delivery was stronger, with enough of an edge to make her more intimidating.
Bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre (another veteran of many OA productions) seemed both vocally and dramatically at home in the role of Papageno. And when he was joined by soprano Carla Huhtanen as Papagena, feathers flew in a lively and well-paced duet.
Finally, bass João Fernandes sang the role of Sarastro with a rich and velvety (yet curiously disembodied) voice. His was a commanding, rock-solid performance, both vocally and dramatically.
While it’s nice to see remounts of favourite Opera Atelier productions, fans are entirely at the company’s mercy with respect to what they might or might not see again. Why has so little of OA’s work been commercially released on DVD? Surely there’s a market for more!
© Colin Eatock 2013