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Banchette's spritely but not always deep Magic Flute

THE MAGIC FLUTE

By Mozart.

First American performances on

original instruments, in a concert version by Banchetto Musicale,

Martin Pearlman, conductor.

Jordan Hall, May 5 & 6.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

THERE WERE MANY GOOD THINGS about Banchetto Musicale's first American original instruments performance of The Magic Flute (the first British original instruments version was presented by Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players in January.)

There were also moments of greatness, most notably during the singing of Ach ich f"uhl's by Sharon Baker, for it was at this point that the audience became one with the performer. This is an aria of pain, in which Pamina fears that Tamino -- bound to silence as one of his trials -- has deserted her. Baker's singing had an endearing unpretentiousness, but a heart-piercing directness.

Feelings of sorrow and suffering were communicated with a ravishing vocal sweetness, and consummated by the softly-characterful bassoon and oboe. Christopher Krueger's gentle, woody-sounding period flute provided a quintessentially Mozartean sad, but spiritually uplifting, balm. String playing was strong here, too.

This aria made the strongest case for an original instruments presentation, for Pearlman masterfully allowed the individual well-differentiated orchestral voices to sing most characterfully, but drew the orchestra together into a sublime unity.

As the aria progresses, Pamina turns to B-flat major to recall earlier happiness, making the plunge back to the soul-searching depths of Mozart's most intimate key -- G minor -- all the more arresting. Baker's evocation here of Pamina's contemplation of death -- "so wird Ruhe, so wird Ruh' im Tode sein," -- was done with a frightening seriousness, yet a transcending beauty.

If Baker's singing clearly topped the list for profundity, Sanford Sylvan -- as Papageno, Mozart's evocation of the godly-in-the-human, as against Tamino's human-in-the-godly -- showed the greatest appreciation for the beauty of the words he was singing. There were elements of the Fischer-Dieskau both in his clarity of articulation and in the illumination of meaning resulting from his diction and phrasing. His voice, moreover, had a fullness and glow to it, which facilitated a joyous and touching characterization.

Although Der Vogelf"anger bin ich ja was on the heavy side (and with Pearlman taking surprisingly relaxed tempi, given his brisk approach to the opera as a whole), Ein M"adchen oder Weibchen was delightful.

The Papagena! Papagena! aria was moving. There is special meaning to this aria, for Papageno refers to Papagena as his "Herzensweibchen," (beloved little wife), Mozart's term of endearment for his own wife, Constanze. Sylvan communicated a sense of longing, of youthful sexuality in need of requiting. When Papageno finally gets his Papagena (Lynn Torgove), Sylvan and Torgove cooed lovingly with an uplifting innocence.

Frank Kelley generally sang fluently, although not always with tonal purity -- he sounded forced at times -- and was ultimately disappointing as Tamino. His Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd sch"on was certainly sung nicely enough, but lacked sensuality. Although towards the end -- in duet with Baker's Tamina -- Kelley did become more involved, he remained distant for much of the evening, and his portrayal of Tamino only rarely departed from superficiality.

Listening to Sylvan's Papageno, it seemed that he would have been better suited than Kelley to portraying the sense of both purpose and spiritual serenity essential to the role of Tamino.

Darnelle Scarbrough, Marilyn Bulli and Pamela Dellal sang the Three Ladies of the Queen of the Night, and they were great. Deliciously lustful at the sight of Tamino, they also showed precision in singing and a good sense of humor.

The Queen herself was sung by Rebecca Sherburn. Der H"olle Rache was effectively developed, and with a most sinister stage presence. If Sherburn's vocal expressiveness was not always of an international standard, the difficult collatura was impressively performed.

William Cotten was not nearly nasty enough as Monastatos; he was more a nebish than a sadist. But Herbert Eckhoff was quite adequate as Sarastro, and the Three Boys' parts were performed well by Daniel O'Toole, Ian Zilla and Robert Mancini from the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul's.

While singing was in German, dialogue was performed in English, using the witty version by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. This worked well, for the most part, although the acting by the singers was not of a consistently high quality. There were, moreover, a few problems of transition. In particular, there was a loss of drama associated with the Act II entrance of the Queen of the Night, as compared to the traditional version.

The chorus sang strongly. But despite several passages of pure musical magic, Banchetto's orchestral performance did not consistently operate at a deep Mozartean level. The sounds were certainly spritely; this was a fresh account. Yet, overall, Pearlman's was not a great interpretation, doing too little to offer insight into the symbolic and humanitarian aspects of the opera.

Too much attention was paid to the sonic quality, too little to the message those sounds should convey. Recalling the greatness of this production's Ach ich f"uhl's, one can only speculate on the wonders Pearlman might have wrought with a more mature conception of the score as a whole.

Yet, if this performance failed to set new standards, it was highly enjoyable nonetheless. Mozart operates -- and can reach us -- on many different levels. Although one would have liked an account on the deep levels of Tamino and Sarastro as well, Pearlman brought us a Magic Flute which was mostly from the less rarefied vantage point of Papageno. And, if Mozart cast Papageno after the feelings of his own heart, in the grand scheme of things, that is valid, too.