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Weekly Alibi The Queen of Night

Santa Fe Opera's 42nd Season Starts With a Bang

By Brendan Doherty

JULY 20, 1998:  Firecrackers blasted in the distance from the Española Valley and nearby Tesuque. There was little denying that the Fourth of July was in the fabric of all quarters, but the real incendiary show was underneath the new roof at the Santa Fe Opera.

With the performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute, one of five productions this summer, the opera company celebrated its 42nd opening weekend with fire. The story, adapted from a vaudevillian play for children, was originally performed in Vienna in 1791, conducted by Mozart himself. It is all Mozart, in fact, from deceptively simple arias and duets that draw audiences wickedly to the complex, difficult and at times gaudy musical flourishes. Following Prince Tamino's search for his beloved and abducted Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, held by the questionable Sorastro and his band of Mason-like followers, the characters whirr in a search through a loosely 1930s-era setting.

By the time that Jami Rogers sang one of the most famous arias in all of opera, "The Queen of the Night" aria, the spell on the audience was complete. Rogers performed the same role for the New York City Opera company recently, and her performance of the well known and extremely difficult moment was stunning. She sang back, increasing the anticipation and, frankly, raising the fear that she would not hit the wildly paced and high-pitched succession of notes. Her clever play paid off as she stood the hair on the backs of a number of necks when she approached her character's famous high notes. The audience responded in kind to the soprano's masterful treatment of a very well known, but telling, aria.

Heidi Grant Murphy, as the Queen's abducted daughter, Pamina, thrilled the capacity crowd, reprising the role she sang at the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York. In her proficiency, she never failed to keep humor in the piece.

Technically, the Santa Fe Opera is, for the state of New Mexico, in a class by itself. Conductor Robert Spano guided the orchestra through even the most boring of the Mozart transitions (referred to by director Jonathan Miller as "Mozak"--beautiful fluff between important musical passages). The opera through its history has been aggrandized into one absurd and wild entrance after another, and a confused tone between the agents makes Flute a difficult opera to make clear. The Masons, the Queen, the love interests and the wild Mozart flourishes make for an uneven batter with a few lumps in consistency. The SFO's clear staging, English singing and particularly the humorous entrances of the surreal animals during the flute's performances brightened the story that would otherwise have been a wild jumble.

In short, it was a hell of a show.


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