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With its generous buffet of inviting ensembles, Opera NEO’s second installment of Mozart’s earnest yet fanciful moral fable, The Magic Flute, made its online debut Saturday. This episode brought together all of the opera’s major characters into the court of Sarastro, the High Priest of Isis and Osiris, in the culmination of the first act of this two-act opera.

Luke Harnish & Sara Womble [photo courtesy of Opera NEO]

Happily dominating this episode of the story, Sara Womble’s lithe, gleaming soprano gave Pamina, the sought after love interest of Prince Tamino, undeniable allure and charm. In an enchanting duet with Luke Harnish’s Papageno, Womble’s graceful lines floated effortlessly above the staff, securely supported by Harnish’s warm baritone. “Bei Männer welche Liebe fühlen” is one of those ardent love duets in which the characters praise love’s merits without being in love with each other.

Following the story’s convoluted trajectory, Tamino cannot simply meet Pamina, but instead must send his cohort Papageno to fetch her for him. Carrying out his task, he rescues Pamina from the clutches of Monostatos, one of Sarastro’s misguided servants who has his own designs on the lovely Pamina. Tenor Mason McDermaid, who successfully sang Mercurio in Opera NEO’s La Calisto production last summer, brought ample vocal strength to his role, although his abduction of Pamina did not appear particularly menacing.

As Prince Tamino, Andy Zimmerman took another opportunity to lavish his golden tenor on his aria with his recently received magic flute, “Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton.” Exploiting the possibilities of this virtual medium, the Prince’s flute not only floated out of his hands in mid-air during the aria, but even played itself! The vibrant color of Jóhann Schram Reed’s bass fit Sarastro well, although some of Mozart’s lowest notes sounded a bit sketchy. Any young singer will find challenge in characterizing the role’s essential gravitas, but Reed did not miss the mark by far.

Sara Womble & Jóhann Schram Reed [photo courtesy of Opera NEO]

Joseph Trumbo’s ample bass  brought dignity to the role of the unnamed elderly priest, one of Sarastro’s minions who interrogates Tamino when he seeks entrance to Sarastro’s court in search of Pamina. If the trio of Spirits, Juliet Schlefer, Mary Henriquez, and Mariam Mouawad, did not communicate the same vocal ebullience that the trio of the Ladies–Michele Navarro-Currenti, Claire Cooper, and Natalie Lewis–who opened this episode with their aptly bemused chastisement of Papageno, the Spirits’ sweet, nicely balanced ensemble filled the bill. Having them perch on Tamino’s shoulder–in the virtual world, there is no limit to the actors’ blocking possibilities–was too cute for my taste.

At the episode’s finale, the close of Act One, the chorus, directed by Korey Barrett, offered its well-tuned, uplifting strains in Mozart’s chorale praising the Masonic values: virtue, integrity, and friendship. We await Opera NEO’s next two Magic Flute episodes, in which we will follow Tamino’s and Papageno’s rites of initiation and their eventual reunion with their divinely intended partners.

Access to the first two episodes of The Magic Flute can be navigated through the Opera NEO website.

 

Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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