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S.F. Opera stages mystical ‘Magic Flute’

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Tenor Paul Appleby makes an appealing San Francisco Opera debut in “The Magic Flute.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is filled with allegorical elements that deftly disguised taboo subjects of his era, such as reigning monarchs, the shadowy order of the Freemasons, and the concept of justice. And San Francisco Opera has done the composer’s late-career masterpiece justice with its delightful revival of an English-language production.

The composer’s original Singspiel, or German-language music drama, is already a bit of a stretch, with its setting in mythical Egypt. Jun Kaneko’s multimedia production takes yet another artistic step away from Teutonic themes with colorful costumes and a minimalist set suggestive of Tokugawa-era Japan.

Before Tuesday’s opening performance, general director David Gockley, who created the English translation of the production, announced that two indisposed cast members, Albina Shagimuratova and Jacqueline Piccolino, would be replaced in the roles of the Queen of the Night and the First Lady by, respectively, Kathryn Bowden and Julie Adams.

Bowden was on the tentative side in the first of her two showpiece arias in Act 1, but the soprano’s voice opened up nicely and she was in full imperious flower in Act 2, delivering her role’s signature fireworks with flair while hitting all her top notes.

Tenor Paul Appleby was impressive in his San Francisco Opera debut as the love-struck prince Tamino, warmly conveying his ardor for the princess Pamina with beautiful lyricism and a moving dramatic performance. As Pamina, Sarah Shafer was equally up to the task with her lucid voice and expressive stage presence. (Nadine Sierra will assume the role of Pamina for all November performances.)

As the hapless Papageno, baritone Efrain Solis was generally solid vocally and comically effective as the bird catcher who seemingly has better luck catching birds than landing a potential mate. Maria Valdes charmingly portrayed his ultimate prize Papagena.

Bass-baritone Alfred Reiter solemnly and precisely reached the depths of the vocal range required for Sarastro, the benign sorcerer. Tenor Greg Fedderly engagingly provided an evil counterpoint with his portrayal of the lecherous Monostatos.

Additional excellent contributions came from bass Anthony Reed as the Speaker, and Adams, who was joined in her naughty trio of ladies by mezzo-soprano Nian Wang and Zanda Svede. Michael Sacco, Pietro Juvara and Rafael Karpa-Wilson gave a sweet account of the oft-in-air-suspended Three Boys.

Ian Robertson’s Opera Chorus added to the sonorous proceedings, over which conductor Lawrence Foster presided with sensitivity and clarity.

REVIEW

The Magic Flute
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.,
When: 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, Nov. 4, Nov. 12, Nov. 14, Nov. 17, Nov. 20
Tickets: $26 to $381
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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