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Caldwell's Magic Flute is entertaining, not profound

THE MAGIC FLUTE

By Mozart.

Performed by the

Opera Company of Boston.

Conducted by Sarah Caldwell.

The Opera House, March 8, 11 and 18.

Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

SARAH CALDWELL'S Magic Flute is in many ways a good show, and a lot of people enjoyed it on opening night. For those who expected it to be profound as well as entertaining, or for those who came for the music rather than the dazzle, it was disappointing.

The scenery, by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn, is spectacular. The backcloth is colorful and full of symbolism. The costumes, especially of the utterly ornithological Papageno, are delightful. But most of the performances were weak and unconvincing.

The Papageno of Richard Paul Fink was the major exception. If The Magic Flute can be performed and understood on a number of different levels, this was a production from Papageno's view, a celebration of the simple joys of humanity. But for Mozart's most down-to-earth character, Fink skillfully built his portrayal from a number of different angles.

Foremost, he was very funny: coarse-cut and with avaricious appetites for food, drink, and sex (the large MIT audience on opening night found particular empathy in these aspects, to judge from the above-average volume of laughter coming from the part of the theater where they were seated).

But if his Der Vogelf"anger bin ich ja was full of fun (and with some nice gags such as a bird on a wire rising from the orchestra pit), his Ein M"adchen oder Weibchen, in which Papageno longs for a wife "to hug me and keep me warm at night," was deeply touching, and Papageno's eventual unison with his Papagena was magical.

Evelyn Petros was pretty of both voice and appearance as a chirpy Papagena, Papageno's match in every way. All three Ladies of the Night looked spectacular; Markella Hatziano matched her striking looks with clear and characterful singing.

If Caldwell and her crew found feeling in the lighter aspects of the work (a not un-Mozartian concept, incidentally), the more serious messages fell flat. Joseph Evans was a quite bland Tamino. His Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd sch"on, an aria full of heartfelt longing, was sung as if to a block of ice: without color, passion, or musicality. And there was no sense that this Tamino was interested in the pursuit of either love or truth.

Jeanne Ommerle did little better as Pamina. Her projection of character was insipid and, despite some adequate if not outstanding singing in the opera's most tragic aria, Ach, ich f"uhl's, she was vocally disappointing, as well.

Penelope Walmsley-Clark's Queen of the Night was most notable for her failure to hit the high notes. Stefan Szkafarowsky did impart meaning to a few of his passages, but his lack of vocal range caused problems for much of the time. Noel Velasco did project a nice dose of nastiness in his portrayal of Monostatos, even if this failed to obscure his apparent inability to sing the part.

Sarah Caldwell's orchestra was not up to its normal high standards: Its music was pleasant, not profound. This, in short, is a Magic Flute to laugh at, not to reflect on. But, if only to laugh and cry with Papageno, it is worth the trip.