K-State Opera and Theater put on an outstanding and entertaining production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” last weekend in Mc-Cain Auditorium. Directed by Reginald Pittman, the large cast and orchestra did justice to this English language version of the play that supposedly scandalized Masons when it was originally presented.
At least that’s the story in “Amadeus.” Britain’s National Theater has this winter staged a new version of that play, which has Vienna court composer Salieri claim responsibility for Mozart’s early death. An early performance of “The Magic Flute” figures, both in the play “Amadeus” and in the effective film version of it. And why not? This is one of the most performed and beloved of all operas.
Not that it is altogether the perfect example of what most people think of when they think of opera. It is not tragic. In fact, it is often funny. And the characters sometimes speak lines of dialog rather than singing.
For all it mattered in making the words clear, the K-State company could just as well have sung the whole book. Rarely do we hear student productions—and all but one of the thirty singers in this cast was a current K-State student, I believe— where the singing is so consistently strong, where all the parts are filled with people with sufficient maturity of voice to hit the notes, and where the sound reinforcement is as transparent but effective as was Evan Brittain’s for this staging. Vocal Director Amy Rosine deserves substantial credit.
We heard some familiar voices. Janie Brokenicky, a recent K-State graduate, took the difficult Queen of the Night part and Madison Moore was her daughter, Pamina. These proven talents were fine here, but there were some new singers for us to enjoy, too.
Cooper McGuire acted like Mike Myers and sang the bird comic Papageno with power one doesn’t always get in that part. I heard Mitchell Jerko as the noble hero Tamino, and he won my admiration by knocking off passage after passage with confidence and skill.
Nor were any of the other soloists or the choral singers weak. The two important women’s trios—the bewigged Ladies and the Spirits in their white mini-dresses (thanks to costume designer Glenn Avery Breed) sang well and had the tone of the piece just right.
The 60 piece pit orchestra, conducted by David Littrell, was especially good at supporting the singers. The seriousness with which this responsibility was taken may explain what may have been a slightly deliberate tempo. John Uthoff and Blake Cordell gave us usually fairly subtle lighting which was always effective.
The lighting was most apparent when it was used to hide characters on the stairs to the right and left of the set, behind translucent curtains. Probably Kathy Voecks’s good set design was the most noteworthy of the show’s technical achievements. It was substantial and simple, light colored, and with just a few moveable fillips to differentiate settings.
But it was also influential. The simple staging depended heavily on the set’s layout. The central passage with the flat that hid cast massing upstage was also the area into which a doorway (with an eye at its apex, a drawing that resonated with the Egyptian headdresses of the members of the Order) was flown in whenever a bit of ceremony was required. The entry ways in the set were actually fairly narrow, and this allowed processions and disappearances to suit the plot and the music.
In sum, the technical concerns were as transparent as was the orchestra. Which allowed musician Pittman’s production to put the emphasis on the singing. Which is what one wants with Mozart. And with opera.
Because what is the story, really? Some references to Masonic initiation. Two men—Tamino and Papageno— willing to undergo some trials in order to deserve the women they love. A mother— the Queen—in conflict with an enlightened ruler mis-characterized as an evil magician. And a couple of magic devices— bells, represented here by a music box, and a flute.
Attend too much to the story and you’ll miss what has most delighted audiences for a couple of hundred years— the delightful vocal music of W.A. Mozart. In the case of the K-State production, the music was emphasized. And the opera worked because the company had the singers “The Magic Flute” requires.