The gods Isis and Osiris must be have been looking down with favor at the Baltimore Opera Company. Those two Egyptian deities are the presiding spirits of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and they may have transformed on Saturday evening what was -- on the surface of things -- not promising into what was charming.
This threatened to be a hodgepodge of a production. The scenery -- full of great stalagmites and stalactites -- was from a production in Portland, Ore. The costumes -- straightforward and elegant Age of Reason powdered wigs and doublets and hose -- were from a Jean Pierre Ponnelle production in Salzburg. These did not seem to bear any relation to each other. Nor did they bear any discernible relation to director Bijan Ahsef-Jah's "concept" for the production, which ridiculously called for the opera's hero, Prince Tamino, to play the opening scene in a flesh-colored body stocking that simulated nudity. One would have guessed that this "Zauberflote" was going to be eine grosse snoozemusik.
That it didn't turn out that way has nothing to do with the gods but with the fact that Mozart's music and sense of drama are so powerful, so moving, so endearing and so skillfully put together that one has to do some extraordinarily silly things to screw them up.
And there were enough substantial virtues to the production to make it more than merely credible. Ahsef-Jah may have had some peculiar ideas about the meaning of "The Magic Flute," but he was always alert to the charm and the humanity of the drama. He did an excellent job with the onstage animals that are charmed by Tamino's flute and with the children that are the happy progeny of Papageno and Papagena. In the overture, conductor Arthur Fagen may not have provided the happiest contrast between the weight of the adagio and the crisp wit of the allegro, but his tempos in the opera itself considerately allowed his singers to sing easily.
And that singing was generally quite good. Carroll Freeman was a shade on the bland side as Tamino, but his Pamina -- Kay Paschal -- was touching. There aren't very many singers around who can handle the fiery coloratura of the Queen of the Night, and Elizabeth Carter is one of the few that can. Her singing was secure -- if a mite effortful -- and full of venom. Kim Josephson's Papageno brought one of the great comic characters in the history of drama to merry and affectionate life.
In the first act, Tamas Bator suggested that he might have been a little too young and inexperienced for Sarastro, but by the opera's second half he was singing sensitively and with power. Damon Evans made a comically timorous villain as Monostatos, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, Wanda Brister and Lisa Monheit were charming as the Three Ladies, Joseph Corteggiano was a sturdy Speaker, Meredith Stone was a beguiling Papagena and Bradley Boucher, Raphael Zinman and John Comly were perfection as the Three Boys.
"The Magic Flute" will be repeated April 29 and May 1 at 8:15 p.m. and May 3 at 3 p.m.