Monday, June 4, 2012

More Magic, Please

Once more I ventured afar in search of great singing so that I could enlighten you, gentle readers, with my findings. This time it was Brooklyn for Regina Opera's presentation of The Magic Flute, auf englisch.  I've written before about Regina Opera and what I call church-hall opera in general. Specifically, the range of talent and proficiency in any production at this level is usually rather wide. The leads are usually young singers still working on vocal technique and gaining stage experience, and this was certainly true here.

Jenny Lynn Greene
Among the finest singers was Jenny Lynn Greene, who sang Pamina. In this post almost two years ago, having seen a series of role-preparations concerts presented by Opera Manhattan, I wrote "Jenny Greene is a good young soprano and will blossom into a very good Pamina indeed." I wish lottery numbers were so easy to predict. Miss Greene sang beautifully and effortlessly, although the loud and coarse orchestra sometimes made it seem as if she was undersinging. In the two years since her last Pamina, her singing has grown in beauty and assurance. I look forward to hearing about her next vocal accomplishments.

In contrast, the same loud and coarse orchestra seemed to cause Tamino to oversing on occasion. My initial impression was that this was a large-voiced Tamino, but considering the orchestra, that wasn't a bad thing. Michael Boley lists heavier roles than Tamino in his bio, including Hoffmann and Pinkerton, although he seemed to have scaled back somewhat for Tamino. There were many beautiful moments, mixed with just a few that seemed uncomfortable or awkward. Some of the passages where the tessitura hovers in the passaggio, such as the end of the aria Dies Bildniss, are known by us Taminophiles to be fiendishly difficult.

Alexis Cregger was a stunning Queen of the Night. Decked in a costume very much like that of the Evil Queen in Snow White (costumes were by Julia Cornely and Francine Garber-Cohen), she sang with great precision and richness of tone and a truly regal, if static, stance. This was no shrill Queen of the Night, but one with balanced, even tone throughout. Every high F was solid and secure, and most of the high Ds were, as well.

Michael Boley
I wish I'd liked the Three Ladies, sung by Elena Jannicelli-Sandella, Hannah Kramer, and Melissa Kelly, more. I wish I'd heard them better (have I mentioned the loud and coarse orchestra?). They simply seemed ragged and underrehearsed musically. I don't think this reflects on the ladies themselves, but rather on the music director, José Alejandro Guzmán. I liked the Three Spirits of Christina Hourihan, Lidia Luciano and Jennie Mescon much better. I liked the costumes and hair/makeup (Andrea Calabrese, Wayne Olsen) for all six, and I liked a lot of the direction they got from Linda Lehr.

Monostatos was sung by the highly entertaining Gregory Couba. Although the role is often given to tenors for the wrong reasons, in this case I would say the casting was remarkably appropriate. Mr. Couba's plentiful experience in acting and dance were evident, and his singing was quite enjoyable. One had the feeling of 100% certainly, no matter what the orchestra did, and his characterization, at once both sinister and hilarious, showed a tremendous amount of work had gone into making it seem so easy.

Some minor quibbles include the need for cuts in the dialogue. The show was far too long. I thought the Papageno of John Schenkel, although in many ways quite good, relied a too heavily on shtick for laughs.  Even with the eclectic mix of costumes, I wasn't quite sure having the Two Armed Men in what appeared to be Grecian soldier costume worked.  I also wasn't crazy about when they relented from their guard-like stance to become chummy with Tamino for a moment when talking about Pamina, and then returned to that stance when she joined the scene.

There was a lot to like in this production, however, with the blatant exception of the orchestra. Visual elements, although mostly simple, were quite effective. I particularly liked the Act II set, which in effect used large barn doors to alternate between the temple meeting chambers where Sarastro and his priests met and other chambers. As I say, I liked the costumes, which seemed to borrow from many different time periods--Tamino and Pamina were in garb of Arthurian legend, and the Three Ladies were in some sort of post-apocalyptic punk garb, with colored wigs and extreme makeup.  Sarastro (sung adequately by Steven Fredricks) and his priests were mostly in traditional Sarastro-liked robes, although some seemed to be in leftover Don Giovanni peasant costumes.  I liked many of the touches director Linda Lehr added, such as the Japanese-influenced dragon and dancers carrying the birds Papageno chases.

The Magic Flute plays again next weekend, June 9 and 10.


Pamina said...

Excellent review. I wish I could have been there, even with the loud and coarse orchestra. I really want to start seeing more "church-hall opera," because even if the quality isn't opera-house level, I'm sure those performances still have plenty of underrated pleasures to offer in their own right.

Taminophile said...

Oh, I agree, and I don't want to give the impression that opera on this professional level is not worth seeing. I think in some ways it's better than the big budget stuff you see at Lincoln Center. You see young, enthusiastic singers, many of whom have great futures ahead of them, and you often see very creative productions that show that you don't need multi-million dollar machines and budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve fulfilling and even heart-rending art!

Anonymous said...

Rats! I'm going to be in Regina on the evening of the 17th so shall miss it by a week.

Taminophile said...

I think you might be laboring under the misapprehension that this production is in Regina, Saskatchewan. It's actually in Brooklyn. The group is merely called Regina Opera.