Sarasota’s “Magic Flute” provides a mostly delightful Mozart evening

March 10, 2010

Sean Anderson as Papageno and Maria D'Amato as Pamina in Sarasota Opera's "The Magic Flute." Photo: Rod Millington.

Oscars, shmoscars. While most of the country was watching the Academy Awards Sunday night, those in attendance at Sarasota Opera were treated to a largely delightful performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte that had few pining for James Cameron and acceptance speeches.

Sarasota has always maintained a strong Mozart presence with one of the Austrian composer’s works presented at least every other season. Historically, the company’s Mozart has produced variable results, yet in recent years, better casting has resulted in some memorable evenings including an enjoyable Cosi fan tutte and the current revival of The Magic Flute.

Joshua Kohl was a handsome, aptly heroic Tamino, with a strongly projected tenor albeit with a tendency to veer off pitch. His forthright style could have used greater finesse and refinement, as with a rather boldly outlined Dies Bildnis, but he made a worthy and likeable protagonist for all the craziness around him. As the Queen of the Night, Lindsay Ohse displayed a flexible high voice though her singing was effortful in the stratospheric coloratura of O zittre nicht. The soprano was more secure in Der Hölle Rache, a couple flat top notes apart.

Yet so strong was the rest of the ensemble and Sarasota’s charming production by Troy Hourie and Howard Tsvi Kaplan that it made up for any inconsistent vocalism. Maria D’Amato was a superb Pamina, attractive and rich of tone with an impressive rendering of Ach, ich fuhls, the soprano touchingly conveying Pamina’s heartbreak and despair.

Sean Anderson made a terrific Papageno, robust of tone and consistently amusing without descending to silliness. Young-Bok Kim was a dignified and empathetic Sarastro, those subterranean low notes in his arias making sonorous impact.

Political correctness be damned, Sarasota’s production is one of the few in recent memory to actually present Monostatos in blackface as the text requires (along with the unexpurgated cringe-inducing subtitles) and John Tsotsoros proved a wonderfully vivid and well sung villain. Katherine Werbiansky was a worthy Papagena, Andrew Darling a fine Speaker and the Three Ladies (Abla Lynn Hamza, Sarah Amar and Alissa Anderson) a lively trio.

Robert Tweten’s efficient conducting could have used a lighter touch and more imagination at times, but he kept the score moving and supported the singers skillfully. Allison Grant’s direction was exemplary with the quick scene changes smooth and fluent.

The Sarasota Opera Chorus sang with both fervor and refinement under Roger L. Bingaman’s direction, and the company’s intimate production remains irresistible. You have to love that serpent.

The Magic Flute runs through March 27.

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