In Piedmont Opera’s production of “The Magic Flute,” which opened Friday at the Stevens Center, the singers and orchestral musicians were perfectly in synch, and the costumes, from Sarasota (Fla.) Opera, were richly detailed and luxurious.
The Winston-Salem Symphony, under the direction of the PO’s general director James Allbritten, played the Mozart score sublimely, never covering the singers, always supporting them.
As Prince Tamino, Dominic Armstrong used his warm tenor to nimbly deliver the emotionally charged music. His song to Pamina’s portrait, “This image is enchantingly beautiful,” was heart melting.
Armstrong’s Tamino was well matched by Annamarie Zmolek’s Pamina. Zmolek’s voice was as luminous as her appearance in a glimmering sky-blue gown that underscored the character’s virtue and innocence.
Zmolek is a skilled actor, creating a convincing young girl, imperiled by the vile Monostatos, and impatient to be united with her beloved prince.
Ashraf Sewailam brought gravitas and grandeur to the role of the mysterious Sarastro who rules an enlightened land but has stolen Pamina away from her mother, the Queen of the Night. His bass voice was rich and compelling, his dignity nonpareil.
Brittany Robinson smoldered as the Queen of the Night. The sworn enemy of the Sarastro, the Queen entreats Pamina to murder him in her solo, “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart,” in Act 2.
Robinson rocks this famous aria. Her incandescent and flexible voice reaches down deep into the song and then soars with it to the moon.
Ted Federle plays Papageno, the Queen’s bird catcher and buffoon. Federle possesses a lush baritone, and his fluttering Papageno is a great contrast to the steadfast Tamino.
Papageno provides great comic relief to the serious proceedings of kidnapping, murder plots, initiatory rites and pitched battle between good and evil.
Federle prances about on the balls of his feet and flaps his arms. An unrepentant coward, all Papageno wants is bread and wine – and a nice little wife.
Megan Ann Cleaveland’s portrayal of the “old” Papagena is uncanny, and her voice as the “young” Papagena is spritely and charming.
Andrew Nienaber has drawn believable portrayals from his actors that convey all the emotion that Mozart requires, but, with the exception of Papageno and Papagena’s energetic movement, the staging seemed a little bit constrained.
This may have been influenced by the sets, which are beautifully painted but static. The orderly architecture of Sarastro’s kingdom represents reason and enlightenment. The gold-tinged Egyptian-themed sets, with their suggestion of warm brotherly love and reverence to Isis and Osiris, were quite lovely.
There were many set pieces for Sarastro’s palace and temple, but not much attention was paid to the dark forest where Tamino and Papageno are made to wander. Likewise, the scenes where Tamino and Pamina endure trials by fire and water cried out for more vivid effects.
If special effects are not feasible in those scenes, then it seems that the mountain wilderness that suggested the chaos of the Queen’s superstitious realm and disordered mind might have been brought back.
Speaking of the Queen, her entrance on a crescent moon flanked by boiling clouds and crowned by a star-spangled sky, provided wonderful spectacle and a glimpse of the three-dimensional treatment that the material and the performers deserve.
The brilliance of the performances and costumes far outweighed any quibbles with the staging. “The Magic Flute” is a glorious finale to Piedmont Opera’s season.
And for more good news: In his curtain speech before the show, Piers Clarkson, the opera’s development director, announced the company’s 2015-2016 season. It will be presenting Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”