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Review: VOICE Fest studio artists impress with ‘The Magic Flute’


Review: VOICE Fest studio artists impress with ‘The Magic Flute’

24 Aug 2016

The Savannah VOICE Festival’s fourth year of operation boasted three full performances of operas, the last of which was Aug. 20’s scaled-down but dazzling version of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte.”

“Die Zauberflöte,” or “The Magic Flute,” was Mozart’s final opera and is widely considered one of his most adventurous, in both narrative and message. The complex and whimsical show’s genre flops about from love story to comedy to adventure quest to political and ideological allegory frequently, sometimes during the same scene.

It’s generally accompanied by grandiose staging, built to immerse the audience in its oddly endearing story — a facet Savannah VOICE Festival had to do without.

The young singers, plucked from SVF co-founder Sherrill Milnes’ two-week residency VOICE Studio program, were left with a stripped-down version of the show, which might have been a hindrance were it not for their wonderful talent.

The show opens with the male protagonist, Tamino (Peter Rivera), desperately trying to escape a giant serpent. He is rescued by three attendants (Elisabeth Coleman, Esthermari Barbosa-Alvarez, Jasmine Connolly) of the Queen of the Night (Rachel Sparrow). However, local feather-covered bird-hunter Papageno (Brad Summers) finds the fainted Tamino and takes credit for slaying the beast himself.

From the first scene, it’s easy to see that “Flute” is not exactly a typical story.

The cast for the evening performed very well overall, which is in no small part due to Milnes’ tutelage. Rivera’s tenor honed in on the first aria of the evening, “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön,” or “This image is enchantingly beautiful.” His voice was well-rehearsed throughout the show, though signs of fatigue could be heard every so often.

The Queen of the Night appears and asks Tamino and Papageno to rescue her daughter, who has been captured by the supposedly evil Sarastro (Franco Rios Castro). The two are presented with a magic flute and magic bells to protect them on their quest.

The Queen of the Night role is perhaps best known for the second of her two trapeze-act arias in “Flute,” which showcase the brave soprano’s extremely high coloratura range. Sparrow rose to the occasion with ease, and wowed the audience with her precision and range on both arias.

The protagonists are often joined by the multifaceted trio of Morgan Leah Ryan, Deborah Rivera-Badillo and Gabriela Fagen. The trio of young girls played a few different roles throughout the show, including a group of boy adventurers and later, animals drawn to the sound of the flute. But don’t mistake them for extras; the trio performed well in both singing and speaking roles.

Every voice in the cast was impressive, but the far-and-away standout was Dru Daniels’ Pamina. From her first appearance in the always-hilarious trio, “Du feines Täubchen, nur herein!” with Sarastro’s slavemaster Monostatos (Jordan Reynolds) and Papageno, Daniels’ voice sounded well beyond her years in terms of control and timbre. She’s a textbook example of the kind of singer Milnes’ VOICE program is capable of producing.

Tamino and Papageno are challenged by Sarastro’s trials, all of which essentially boil down to using logic, reason and self-control to make decisions instead of acting impulsively or out of passion — as the Queen of the Night has previously instructed him. This theme is essentially Mozart’s message for the show.

Castro flexed his booming bass voice in Sarastro’s explanatory “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (“Within these sacred halls”), which explains to the protagonists that Sarastro’s side is truly the more virtuous than that of the Queen.

After completing the trials, the two are rewarded by Sarastro and his followers (Austin Crip, Robert Amer) with love. For Tamino, Pamina, and for Papageno, feathered bird-woman Papagena (Melissa Marzán Santiago). Santiago and Summers sang a spritely and concise version of the infectious love duet, loosely titled “Pa-pa-pa-pa Papageno.”

As the lights came up and the cast bowed to a standing ovation, I was reminded that I was still in a hotel ballroom, and not a venue built for theater productions.

Maria Zouves, co-founder of Savannah VOICE Festival and producer of “Flute” told Do in an earlier interview that the three operas in this year’s fest were “Savannah size.”

“It’s the voices and music we are featuring here, not any fancy set ideas or design,” she said. “These stories stand on their own and will transport the audience by their sheer beauty.”

She hit the nail on the head.

Scaling down Mozart’s enormous “Flute” is no easy task. Scenes and songs and set pieces had to be cut to squeeze the production into a ballroom in The Westin. The crew managed to execute this perfectly, while mostly maintaining “Flute’s” fairy tale spirit and erratic narrative.

A large portion of the credit goes to the singers, and rightfully so — the music is not easy, and for some roles, very taxing on the voice. That being said, pianist and conductor Constantine Grame and flautist Jeana Melilli were flawless throughout. With no set pieces aside from the stage itself, the exceptional lighting and sound effects by McWhorter Productions was crucial to the audience immersion. The fine work of stage manager Marcie Friedman and stage director Joachim Schamberger shone brightly throughout the show.

A studio production like “Flute” is a perfect fit for Savannah VOICE Festival, and a wonderful “last day of camp” moment for Milnes’ summer studio program. It was easy to see the joy on the faces of his students, which translated to a lively, low-pressure performance.

One can only hope Milnes’ studio program grows as quickly as the festival itself, and we see another studio production of a major opera in 2017.



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