Vocalists make `Flute' magical

Production by Annapolis Opera does honor to Mozart's beloved singspiel



Annapolis Opera's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) conjured up some unanticipated magic when its Papageno - Peter Couchman - was sidelined by a vocal cord injury and his friend, baritone David Adam Moore, who recently sang the role at the New York City Opera, was called upon.

Moore came from New York to Annapolis to sing Papageno while Couchman spoke the English dialogue and acted the role. Together the pair saved the production, with Moore lending his magnificent baritone to Couchman's inspired lip-synched, onstage performance to produce their own unique stage magic.

Capping Maryland Hall's resident artists' celebration of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday, the weekend performances of Die Zauberflote featured 30 Annapolis Symphony Orchestra members under the baton of Annapolis Opera Music Director Ronald J. Gretz, marking their first such partnership.

From the overture's three distinctive opening chords, this larger, fuller-sounding orchestra expressed the fairy tale's lightness with dark contrapuntal undertones. Throughout the evening, under Gretz's direction, the orchestra was a definite plus with only a few instances of balance problems.

Die Zauberflote, which had its premiere in 1791, is essentially a fairy tale that Gretz has described as offering "something for everybody - adventure, an evil Queen of the Night, comedy in bird-catcher Papageno, the Tamino-and-Pamina love affair and the more serious enlightenment messages."

Additionally, there are suspected Masonic references, some scholars finding them from the opening three chords likened to a secret knocking at a Masonic lodge door. What matters most is that this two-act singspiel is filled with a wondrous mix of enchanting arias, fancy coloratura and lively marches to portray a fantastic adventure.

Annapolis Opera's Tamino - tenor Michael Gallant - looked and sounded just right for the role of a handsome young prince. Tamino instantly falls in love after seeing a portrait of the Queen of the Night's daughter Pamina. Gallant's warm tenor shone in the so-called "Portrait Aria" with a heartfelt romanticism supported by an underlying heroic quality.

As the Three Ladies who save Prince Tamino from the serpent, Amanda Gosier, Michelle Rice and Maria Dolan Barnes create fine vocal harmony along with some delightful comedy.

As the Queen of the Night, Colleen Daly sang the Queen's challenging coloratura arias - including "Der Holler Rache," requiring four high F's. Fearless in her attack, Daly delivered every high note with apparent ease, displaying the requisite vocal agility throughout. My only reservation - perhaps because of the lightness of her voice - Daly at the start of her big aria seemed to hold some vocal power in reserve, resulting in a diminished vehemence that lessened the Queen's fearsomeness.

Alison Trainer, a convincing actress who displayed a voice of radiant beauty, was tenderly affectionate and playful in her duet with Papageno. She was compelling later when she sang a heartfelt "Ach, ich fuhl's" ("Ah, I fear it all is vanished"), expressing her fear that she had lost Tamino after his oath of silence forced him seemingly to ignore her.

A captivating surprise was spirited mezzo-soprano Carla Dirlikov, who brought a commanding stage presence, strong acting skills, a zesty comic zest and a gorgeous voice to the role of Papagena, making her character's arrival eminently worth Papageno's long wait.

Bass David Brundage as Sarastro conveyed the proper dignity and spirituality but sometimes lacked the stentorian tones and low notes.

Bass Marvin Lynn was properly threatening as Monostatos but also had difficulty producing the lowest notes.

At times overwhelmed by the orchestra, the Chorus of Priests was nearly inaudible in its hymn to Isis and Osiris, regrettably because, when heard in rehearsal, I found this chorus to be quite moving.

The costumes used in this production were gorgeous. Created several years ago by John Lehmeyer, these Flute costume designs are a wonderful permanent legacy of the late costume designer and director.

Bravo to conductor and artistic director Gretz and to stage director Braxton J. Peters for their triumphant achievement despite the last-minute problems that might have defeated lesser musicians.

Maryland Hall's Mozart celebration proved a rewarding cooperative endeavor that should mark the first of such ventures with the resident four performing arts groups joining in similar future projects to lend prestige to the venue.

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