Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 29
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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"THE MAGIC FLUTE" AT BERLIND: Papageno (Peter Couchman) and Papagena (Melanie Long) adding comic life to the New Jersey Opera production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at the Berlind Theatre. Performances are set for 8 p.m. July 21 and 1 p.m. July 28.

New Jersey Opera Opens 2007 Season With Production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute”

Nancy Plum

It seems that New Jersey Opera may have found its niche. Now in its fourth summer season, the company has developed a repertory for the year featuring two classical operas, one lighter operatic fare and two nights of operatic scenes and tidbits. The company’s theatrical home in the Berlind Theatre of the McCarter Theatre complex is well-suited for the diverse range of singers the company compiled for this year’s summer season.

New Jersey Opera opened its 2007 summer season on Saturday night with a lively and well-contained production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), with sung portions in German and dialogue in English. The nearly full house at the Berlind Theatre, along with the acknowledgment that other performances are also sold out, indicated that the company is also reaching its stride in audience development and making a name in the Princeton community.

The Magic Flute is full of symbolism (although the degree of symbolism is subject to Mozart myth and legend). Especially in the second act scenes at Sarastros’ palace, the sets designed by Mikiko Suzuki McAdams and the costumes created by Patricia Hibbert brought out the Masonic elements of the opera to varying degrees of effectiveness. Cherubic boys carried lighted pyramids before the procession of priests in choir robes. The choir robes may have been a bit amateurish, but the moving lit columns certainly achieved the desired temple-like effect. Other uses of multi-media effects in the set design were appealing, especially in the dragon scene which opens the opera, in which our hero Tamino is pursued by Godzilla on the back scrim. A “Thing”-like creature (a tribute to the Addams Family) handed up props from beneath the floor from time to time during the opera.

Tenor Greg Warren’s interpretation of Tamino was noble and dignified. Vocally, Mr. Warren wrapped himself well around the vowels of the German and he never lost sight of his beloved Pamina, even long before he met her.

The best voice of the evening belonged to Pamina, sung by soprano Kisma Jordan. A native of Detroit Michigan, Ms. Jordan studied at Philadelphia’s Academy of the Vocal Arts and had solid control over a voice which soared through Mozart’s music. Pamina’s signature aria, “Ach, ich fühls,” was presented by Ms. Jordan with sensitivity and warmth, and Pamina and Tamino made a credible couple walking through the trials of Sarastros’ temple.

Tamino’s traveling companion, Papageno, was sung by baritone Peter Couchman, a singer clearly capable of thinking on his feet, especially when his props broke down. Director Scott Altman cleverly had Papageno arriving onstage through the audience, and Mr. Couchman’s comic presence was nonstop. He was joined late in the opera by a lively Papagena, ably sung by soprano Melanie Long.

Queens of the Night can come in a variety of theatrical forms, and the Queen in this production was revenge personified. Soprano Colleen Daly, although hard to hear from the back of the stage, was decisive and commanding with both diction and the fiendish coloratura of her second act “revenge” aria. Although costumed in a manner which did not fit the rest of the production, Jacob Feldman presented a solid Monastatos, and his somewhat comic nature was a refreshing change from other renditions of this character. Sarastro, played by Matthew Curran, was suave and debonair (who would keep this character hidden away in a temple?), and his henchman, sung by Ben Wager, was performed with a solid baritone.

There are several trios of characters in this opera; three ladies sung by Emily Ross-Johnson, C. Lindsey Poling and Ashly E. Evans were well blended, matched by the three Spirits, sung by Maggie Finnegan, Cindy Byunghye Choi, and Glorivy Arroyo. The ensemble of High Priests was well trained by chorus master Jose Melendez, and all of the ensemble numbers were held together well by conductor Brent McMunn. Mr. McMunn’s tempi were exceedingly quick in some spots, almost allowing the music to get away from the performers. The Opera company had compiled a solid orchestra, and in the space of the Berlind Theatre, it was nice to hear these instrumental parts close up.

New Jersey Opera has an ambitious schedule planned for the summer, but has certainly gotten off to a good start with this first production.

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