Mozart’s Magic Flute is one of the strangest, most jumbled stories in classical opera. Yet for every incomprehensible symbol and discontinuous plot element, there’s a stunning melody, charismatic character, or charmingly absurd theatrical stunt to make up for it. Its fantastical elements lend themselves to over-the-top productions. But in the pared-down production currently running at the UTSA Buena Vista Theater, the music and the up-and-coming talent shine through.
Don’t get me wrong — there are lots of sparkles-and-velvet costumes that work well with the dramatic lighting. There’s fancy headgear, feathers, human flames, ominous and murky monastic robes, and secret handshakes — such stuff as theater is made of. The simplistic, modular set is used well and manipulated flawlessly on stage by the robed “templars” of Mozart’s Masonic fantasy. Sure, the story is a bit chaotic and a teensy bit sexist, but it’s also funny, winning, and musically wonderful.
Dr. William McCrary, stage director for Magic Flute and director of Lyric Theater at UTSA, is clearly dedicated to inculcating a high level of production value, dramatic action, and stage presence in his students. They put on a consistently responsible show. What the student performers may lack in experience or polish, they make up for in enthusiasm and talent — some of it remarkably well developed.
As Prince Tamino, the erstwhile if lacking in derring-do “hero” of the story, Rafael Moras gave a solid performance, both vocally and dramatically. He’s the spitting image of Jimmy Stewart, Latin-style — deep-set, asymmetrical, soulful eyes; the same mouth; even the dimples. More relevant is Moras’s command of the stage, grounded and sincere, sensitive but with a masterful hold on his character. Vocally, Moras’s secure tenor voice is easy and unaffected, giving him a refreshingly unpretentious and confident stage presence.
Twenty-year-old Moras is definitely one to watch. As a senior at MacArthur High School in 2006, he was a National Finalist in the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts Talent and Recognition Search, competing nationally in several rounds of performances across the country, judged by such luminaries as Placido Domingo and Mikhail Baryshnikov. He was named a 2006 Presidential Scholar in the Arts. His sophomore recital, coming up on April 17 at the UTSA Recital Hall, is free and open to the public.
As for Jillian Cox as Queen of the Night, she nailed it. Her powerhouse soprano voice and haughty demeanor give the appropriate level of vengefulness to the famously acrobatic aria that has made this opera famous: Within my heart the fire of hell is burning! (a.k.a. the “Queen of the Night Aria”). It’s tough being the bad girl on a high F, but somebody’s gotta do it.
At the other end of the spectrum is Helen
Rodriguez’s Papagena. It’s a relatively minor comic role, but she’s a show-stealer nonetheless, with her Carol Kane-inspired lascivious crone transformed into a lusty young bride for Tamino’s common-man sidekick, Papageno.
On opening night, Michelle Lange’s Pamina showcased the UTSA sophomore’s beautifully developing soprano, vocally echoing the sparkles-and-velvet of the costumes. Nicholas May’s Papageno was disarmingly goofy and jester-like, maintaining an endearingly comic presence throughout.
There were a few flaws. The student orchestra was a bit tentative and at moments simply out of tune, but still provided moments of musical beauty. Also a bit disjointed was the decision to perform two of the arias in German, while the rest of the opera was in English.
Special guest George Hogan as Sarastro, the High Priest of the mysterious “brotherhood,” gave a somewhat disappointing performance. He has a bracingly low basso voice, but he tended to drag his lines and seemed to be counting on age and experience to dominate the stage. Maybe he hadn’t anticipated such a high level of student talent to compete with. •
7:30pm Apr 11
3pm Apr 13
Buena Vista Theater @ UTSA downtown
501 W. Durango Blvd.