Annapolis Opera's gala take on `The Magic Flute' wraps up celebration of composer's life

Singing the praises of Mozart's music

March 17, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

Eight-year-old Emily Harper stayed up past her bedtime to watch the full dress rehearsal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute, which will be presented by the Annapolis Opera tonight and Sunday afternoon at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

"I liked the man dressed as a bird," Emily said at the end of the first act, referring to Papageno, the Queen of the Night's merry bird catcher in a fanciful plot that takes place in ancient Egypt.

Emily came Wednesday for the run-through with her mother, Laura, two brothers and an older sister. But she was at a disadvantage because she couldn't follow the lyrics' subtitles in English as they were sung in German.

"She doesn't understand why they're not singing in English," Laura Harper, who home-schools her five children, said. "I'm whispering the story to her."

Even so, Emily was enchanted and ready to stay.

The Annapolis Opera gala production of The Magic Flute - or Die Zauberflote - is the final event in a six-week city arts celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday, which was Jan. 30. The two performances also mark the first time that the city's opera company has collaborated with a cadre of 30 musicians from the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra playing in the pit.

Under the baton of Annapolis Opera music director Ronald J. Gretz, the singers and musicians quickly went to work during rehearsal. Then a little mistake happened: the auditorium stage curtain was drawn before the overture ended. But nobody seemed to mind - that's what rehearsals are for.

Mozart's most beloved opera, first performed in Vienna, Austria, in 1791, lends itself to elaborate staging and costuming with adult fairy tale characters such as female spirits, beasts, priests and an evil musician named Sarastro.

The main protagonist, young and handsome Tamino - well played and sung by tenor Michael Gallant - is on a quest in search of Pamina, daughter of the formidable Queen of the Night.

Nancy Lindley, an opera board member, said the city opera company has evolved into a showcase for young talent, drawing some of the best young voices in the region when it produces one major event each year. Community support has been strong, with full houses expected for this weekend's performances.

"In our 33rd season, we are polishing the development of young professional singers and giving them a chance early in their lives to perform major roles in a completely professional performance," Lindley said between the first and second acts.

Standing nearby was Colleen Daly, 24, in her Queen of the Night makeup and garb, taking a breath between soprano arias. The Laurel resident said, "This is my professional debut, and it's a dream world to me."

Daly added, "When I was a little girl and I heard the Queen of the Night sing, that's when I knew I wanted to be an opera singer."

The costumes, with 18th-century wigs and flourishes, were re-created by Baltimore's A.T. Jones & Co. to reflect the late John Lehmeyer's original design, Lindley said.

There was only one worry at the dress rehearsal. "Our Papageno is not well," Gretz told scores of opera buffs who came out to watch the dress rehearsal for five dollars. "But he should be fine by Friday."

The question was whether baritone Peter Couchman, singing the lead role of birdman Papageno, would recover in time for tonight's performance. Couchman, who has performed widely in New York, Boston and Paris venues, was expected to get medical treatment for his sore throat.

Lindley said she enjoyed noting real-life stories behind the scenes. Gallant, who sings the principal Tamino role, is engaged to Carla Dirlikov, who sings the part of Papagena, who eventually beguiles birdman Papageno in a lilting duet. Despite the emphasis on giving younger professional singers a place to shine, dedicated amateur musicians are also in the production mix.

Take bass Claude Smith, a chorus member who appears onstage as a man in armor; by day, he is the head of clinical psychiatry at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

For Lindley, after all the elaborate story twists are sorted out, the best happy ending would be to honor the composer's timeless memory.

"I hope they sing Happy Birthday to Mozart," she said.

Some tickets may still be available for tonight's 8 p.m. performance and Sunday's 3 p.m. performance at Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St. in Annapolis. Ticket prices range from $40 to $60. For more information, call 410-267-8135.

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