Review: Mozart's Magic Flute
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Students, pros play a sparkling ‘Magic Flute’

Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times
May 10, 2015

One of the most positive environments for music students is the opportunity to perform alongside excellent professionals. At the University of Washington School of Music, the new partnership with the pros – in this case, the much-lauded Pacific MusicWorks – is providing bonuses for both students and audiences in the stellar new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Mozart’s last opera seems to survive nearly any “concept”: performed as a period piece, or with various updatings, or with changes in setting and period and language. This version of “The Magic Flute” is a sort of mishmash of periods, with the singing in the original German, and the dialogue (and supertitles) in a highly colloquial new translation by Karen Hartman. Spoken lines such as “You know my Mom! – Sweeeet!” and “My main client is stressing” rub elbows rather uneasily with sung lines such as “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” in the original libretto. Onstage cellphones and their ringtones are ubiquitous. At times, the translation contradicts the action, as when the singers refer to “a beast” that was chasing Tamino – but we see a handful of shouting thugs instead.

Still, director Dan Wallace Miller’s concept works well with the new translation, and he moves the characters adroitly around the stage in high-energy and imaginative action. Set designer Christopher Mumaw alternates between a gritty urban landscape dominated by a dumpster, and the 18th-century realm of the noble ruler Sarastro, where the young protagonists undergo trials before admittance to Sarastro’s order.

The musical values are first-rate. Stephen Stubbs, the Pacific MusicWorks director who just won a conducting Grammy, presides over a highly accomplished period orchestra uniting professional and student players. It was clear from the spirited, well-shaped overture that Stubbs’ sense of pacing and the expertise of his musicians would be a major boon for this production.

The cast is exceptional. Stubbs lined up Mary Feminear, one of the stars of Seattle Opera’s “Semele” earlier this year, as Pamina, and she demonstrated not only amazing versatility but also a voice of remarkable size and brilliance. As the Queen of the Night, with her stratospheric coloratura arias, soprano Cyndia Sieden – an international star in this role — unquestionably has the goods.

Ross Hauck and Geoffrey Penar were first-rate singing actors as Tamino and Papageno; Emma Grimsley made a lovely Papagena, and Colin Ramsey brought warmth and depth to the role of Sarastro. The Three Ladies, with their punk hairdos and fist-bumps, were expertly sung by Holly Boaz, Celeste Godin, and Julia Benzinger; Alasdair Elliott and Matthew Scollin did fine work, as did the Three Spirits (Denná Good-Mojab, Michelle Bretl and Margaret Boeckman).

Saturday’s performance faced heavy competition from the rock concert outside in Red Square, and rumbly thumpings could occasionally be heard inside Meany Hall as a strange counterpoint to Mozart. A university campus is a place for all kinds of music, but perhaps not ideally in such proximity.