Novel approach to 'The Magic Flute' raises own challenges

Rachel Sterrenberg and Roy Hage are among the cast members of "The Magic Flute" at Prince Music Theater.
Rachel Sterrenberg and Roy Hage are among the cast members of "The Magic Flute" at Prince Music Theater. (KARLI CADEL / For The Inquirer)
Posted: November 17, 2012

For all of Mozart's distilled, sublime music, The Magic Flute usually feels like a work in progress due to its haphazard dramaturgy, obscure Masonic symbolism, and strangely paced second act.

So, one can't argue on principle with the interventionist production that the Curtis Opera Theatre presented Thursday at the Prince Music Theater, even if solved problems came with new blind alleys.

The parablelike story usually begins with the opera's hero, Tamino, being pursued by a dragon. This time, he was in modern prep-school dress with a gun to his head, suggesting that the opera was his post-suicide journey into the afterlife.

That made much sense, though the rest of this brainy production directed by Chas Rader-Shieber unfolded in a sparely furnished room with chalkboard walls. Tamino was welcomed into the temple for his purification ceremonies by what looked like severely costumed denizens from The Matrix. Dozens of garments hanging overhead suggested the Burlington Coat Factory.

Most curious, the pared-down, modernized spoken dialogue (in English, though arias were sung in German) was purposefully sexist. Why? Well, some assembly was required in the mind of the viewer. But symbolism-free scenes tapped into the opera's emotional relationships as effectively as any production I've seen.

Musically, the cast was full of promising musicians at the beginning of a hopefully fruitful evolution with The Magic Flute. Among the singers, the nervous vibratos of Act I settled down into a more solid Act II, when the cast made credible claims to their roles. However, the smallish-scale approach of conductor Vinay Parameswaran (who could have drawn sturdier playing from the orchestra) seemed to rob certain characters of their theatrical sharpness, including Anna Davidson's Queen of the Night, Andrew Bogard's Sarastro, and Adam Frandsen's Tamino.

The stars of the show were Sarah Shafer, whose gleaming soprano effectively navigated Pamina's formidable music, and Sean Michael Plumb, whose warm, velvety baritone and onstage ease as the bird catcher Papageno promised wonderful things to come.


Contact David Patrick Stearns

at dstearns@phillynews.com.

Repeat performances are 7:30 Saturday and 2:30 Sunday at Prince Music Theater. Information: 215-893-7902, www.curtis.edu.

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