Review: Spellbound by The Magic Flute

On Tuesday, July 4th I had my first foray into the enchanting world of opera. As a part of T&T Opera Festival 2017, Picoplat Music Development Foundation presented Mozart’s renowned oeuvre, The Magic Flute, at the Government Plaza Auditorium.

As per his accomplished reputation in the theatre, Dr. Helmer Hilwig’s minimalist direction of this abridged version of the Mozart’s opera, was both accessible and thoroughly delightful. The sparse set design helped to focus the audience’s attention where it was most needed; the actors. The decision to perform unamplified lent a very organic and authentic feel to the whole affair. Under the baton of June Nathaniel, the musical accompaniment; a simple trifecta of a piano, a flute (of course), and percussion, was wonderful, feeling as alive and real as the people on stage.

The story flowed smoothly, keeping a pace that never dragged. The first scene opening on the dangerous and terrible dragon hot on the heels of the noble and terrified prince Tamino (Rory Wallace), who belted his fears and pleas for help in a strong and impressively controlled voice that worked as a suitable introduction to the operatic style. The trio of Ladies that immediately followed with their mind-boggling and enchanting harmonies truly convinced me that they might be otherworldly beings with voices that wrap around and weave into each other, slaying dragons and saving princes.

The Magic Flute

Prince Tamino (Rory Wallace) and the Three Ladies (Sabrina Marks [left], Maegan Pollonais [behind] and Shannon Navarro [right]) | Photo Credit: Carl-Anthony Hines

As impressive as the Three Ladies were, the real show stopper was Natalia Dopwell’s performance as The Queen of the Night. Her duplicitous role let her flex her formidable chops with notes and melodies that seem to verge on the limits of impossibility while somehow still managing to maintain her stage presence with fluid movements and an emotive face.

Tamika-Diandra Joseph as Pamina also held her own on stage with fine vocal prowess. Krisson Joseph’s turn as Papageno was another favorite. His duet with Papagena (Annelise Kelly) was one the most memorable and enjoyable moments of the entire production; their infectious back-and-forth birdsong was stuck in my head for hours , even after leaving the opera.

The Magic Flute 2017

Tamina (Tamika-Diandra Joseph) captured by Monostatos’ (Richard Taylor) slaves (Jake Salloum – left and Vanessa Mason – right) | Photo Credit: Carl-Anthony Hinds

Although some performances fell flat; Sarastro’s (Shellon Antoine) projection and vocal interpretation for example, left something to be desired, it was barely enough to diminish my full experience. There were also moments when the chorus seemed to struggle with their choreography, still, they managed to maintain their harmonious wall of sound as they completed their awkward steps.

As may be expected with one’s first opera, I was unable to fully understand all of the words that were so extravagantly sung. The provision of the full story in the show’s program ensured that I was never lost and that I could appreciate the artistry of the craft without worrying about trying too hard to interpret the singing.

Additionaly,  I believe the editing of the script to get a shorter and more accessible run-time left some aspects of the performance feeling disjointed. I felt blindsided by Papagena’s sudden appearance in the Second Act, which was supported by a bit more foreshadowing in the original story. Nonetheless, as with any potentially unheard lyrics, the program made up for it, ensuring that the audience could fill in any blanks in the performance.

The choice of opera in itself was definitely a fine one for an introductory offering. The mixing of spoken and sung dialogue, a type of opera known as “singspiel”, provided respite from the powerhouse vocals for both the audience and the actors. The well-trodden story of a virtuous prince searching for love, rescuing a princess, feels familiar enough to give opera first-timers a sense of comfort. The serious, and dramatic main arc supplemented with Papageno’s humourous love-lorn sub-plot added that level of light-hearted romp that elevated the experience.

All in all, the sheer magnitude of talent that took to the stage on Tuesday had me spellbound. I can’t help but mention Natalia Dopwell’s amazing talent again as the thing that struck me the most, and I can’t wait to delve even further into what opera has to offer, especially when it showcases some of Trinidad’s best vocal talents as this production did.

‘The Magic Flute’ continues TODAY [Friday 7th July] at the Government Plaza Auditorium, Port of Spain, and closes Sunday 9th. For tickets and more info, go to www.ttoperafest.com.

The Magic Flute 2017

The Queen of the Night (Natalia Dopwell) and the Three Ladies (Sabrina Marks, left; Maegan Pollonais, behind; Shannon Navarro, right) | Photo Credit: Carl-Anthony Hinds

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