The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, November 11, 2011, Arts

The Magic Flute

Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside,
Through Nov. 13
Running time: 2 hr., 45 min.

It's been 25 years since Austin Lyric Opera entered our cultural landscape with its inaugural production of Mozart's immortal singspiel The Magic Flute. Just as ALO's first season opened with beloved opera icons Papageno, Sarastro, and the Queen of the Night, so too does its silver anniversary season. This Flute lives up to its title, providing a stunningly magical evening for those fortunate enough to attend.

Under the deft baton of principal conductor Richard Buckley (returning this season as ALO artistic director), the vocal prowess of many of the principals is first-rate. Of special note is Houston native Hanan Alattar, whose glorious portrayal of Pamina points toward a starry future for the young lyric soprano. Chorus master and assistant conductor Marc David Erck has prepared an ensemble whose clear and precise diction beautifully navigates the difficult German terrain of Emanuel Schikaneder's libretto. The English dialogue, penned by ALO production stage manager Susan Threadgill, is chock-full of humor, providing a cavalcade of laugh-out-loud moments that keep the aria-heavy opera moving ahead. But the hidden gem of the evening is the orchestra, which plays with technical rigor, splendid intonation, and nuance appropriate to Mozart's late style.

If there is disappointment to be found in the production, it lies in the sometimes haphazard staging. Stage director James Marvel's program notes indicate his thorough understanding of the depths of Mozart's score, famous for its allegorical references to the Masonic Order. He notes impressively that "every set of three chords you hear has a distinct and intentional meaning" and that he has "attempted to capture aspects of this in [his] staging of the piece without being too heavy-handed about it." Despite this smart and crucial analysis, too often the staging feels disconnected and less interesting than it could. Similarly, Noele Stollmack's set and David Nancarrow's lighting – though practical and, for the most part, well-executed technically – provide too little in the way of creativity. By contrast, Christianne Myers' exquisite costumes ignite the imagination with their exciting designs and superb craftsmanship.

It is the music of this Flute that provides its magic. The mature score of Mozart's final opera, high-quality vocal and instrumental performances, and finessed musical direction converge to provide a spectacular evening. Beleaguered though it's been of late, ALO has managed to give Austin a true gem of a production.

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