by Arthur Freeman
Now opening its 10th season, Repertory Opera Company (ROC) on Saturday, April 21, 2013, mounted a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute to a full house in the sanctuary of the First Christian Church of Pomona. Being a Mozart opera, it went without saying that the music would be tellingly, hauntingly beautiful and enduring. The story of the Magic Flute is framed as a children’s tale, complete with a prince, princess, hapless Royal Bird Catcher and fiery dragon, plus a host of characters from places far, far away and times beyond anyone’s recall. It is a bold tale that reveals a world faced with the struggles of opposing values: trust vs. infidelity, love vs. lust, reason vs. passion, head vs. heart.
In the drama, we watched to see how Princess Pamina (lustrously sung by Aneta Augustyn) would discover her loyalties – to her mother, the Queen of the Night (the sparkling Keiko Clark); to her father (Sarastro, staidly performed by Robert Arce) and to her destined Prince Tamino (the lyrical Matt Dunn). Meanwhile, we followed the troubles that perpetually dogged the bird catcher, Papageno (John Hansen, full of good humor) and witnessed his eventual meet-up with his curiously destined love, Papagena (Maureen Davis, curiously delightful). Other characters in the story include the Three Ladies, servants of the queen (Coril Prochnow, Sarah Beaty and Victoria Ann Fox); Monostatos, the randy servant of Sarastro (Steve Moritsugu); and the Speaker of the Temple (Sean Hughes), who struck fear and awe into any who dared approach the Temple of Wisdom without purposeful intent. We knew we were on serious ground when we heard Sarastro invoke Isis (the ancient Egyptian Goddess of Life) and Osiris (the ancient Egyptian God of Death) while praying for the outcome of the trials awaiting Tamino and Pamina, which would test their love for each other.
Finally, we saw how Music + Love (or Love + Music) served as the instruments that dissolved the natural hostilities sparked by opposing energies, creating from them a new and harmonious vitality. It was a victory for the striving spirit.
The cast assembled by LizBeth Lucca, ROC’s masterful company founder and stage director; and Brian Farrell, ROC’s accomplished, virtuosic music director, was reliably good, with experienced and capable performances offering at times glowing, nuanced singing and the good humor required in this type of opera. The characters were clearly cut and served the movement of the story. The set design, prepared for this production by Rebecca Niederlander and students from the high schools of Pomona, was colorful and beautiful and added to the youthful feeling of the performance. Costumes were equally colorful and vibrant.
The Spirits (pictured left) and the large ensembles were outstandingly sung and deserve special recognition. They truly heightened the presence of an already well-produced and well-performed show. These choral moments somehow viscerally reminded me of how involved we are in our individual destinies – poised between the lofty heights of hope and our inner hearts of darkness. Mozart crafted them to remind us that we are flanked by forces that operate outside of ourselves; that to heal the struggle of the world’s inherent opposites and to cultivate goodness for ourselves and our world, instruments such as those offered through the arts are a sure path to help guide us through ever present troubling times.