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THE MAGIC FLUTE, opera at Rockwell, presents “magical” voices.

THE BASICS: THE MAGIC FLUTE, an opera by Mozart, abridged, sung in English, presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited, directed by Tim Kennedy, opened Friday, December 1 at 8:00 p.m. and repeats Sunday December 3 at 2:30 at Buffalo State, Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center, 1300 Elmwood Avenue. (878-3005) www.buffalostatepac.org Tickets available at the door. $1 snacks. Plenty of free parking on campus. Runtime: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This is the classic journey of the hero, in a strange land, who, with a sidekick, overcomes ordeals to capture a prize, in this case a wife. As the opera starts, The Queen of the Night, representing darkness, uses her minions to convince Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the clutches of the high priest Sarastro. Aided (and humorously hindered, too) by his sidekick, Papageno the birdcatcher, Tamino comes to admire Sarastro and his three temples dedicated to Wisdom, Reason, and Nature. He proves himself worthy of Pamina and all ends well.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This “opera” by Mozart is technically a “singspiel” (literally sing/speak) and, while strong voices still carry the day, the operetta-like format of dialog and song will be familiar to many. And, making it even easier for non-opera lovers, supertitles are projected (a common practice today even in English language operas). But, oh my, what voices! Without a doubt, this is the strongest collection of singers I’ve heard in a Buffalo Opera Unlimited production in a while. And that’s across the board.

While all the singers were equal to the task, of course some were “more equal” than others. My thoughts of “Damn, this show is going to be much better than I expected” started with the trio of ladies in waiting (minions?) to the evil Queen, sung in beautiful three-part harmony by Meghan Attridge, Mariami Bekauri, and Kaliegh Sutula. I’ve heard a number of MAGIC FLUTES in my day, and they could have graced any stage. Kofi Hayford, the bass, was stunning as Sarastro. He owned it.  At the extreme upper end of the vocal range was soprano Karen D’Angelo who absolutely nailed the “Hell’s Vengeance” or “Queen of the Night’s aria.” For that, you’ve either got it or you don’t, and baby, she’s got it. Wow. James Judd as Tamino is a strong tenor, and Eric Kesler as the birdcatcher is a strong baritone.

… what voices! Without a doubt, this is the strongest collection of singers I’ve heard in a Buffalo Opera Unlimited production in a while.

Note: one regret was that while the applause throughout the evening was strong, I was really hoping that we could get an encore of the Queen of the Night aria. <sigh>  

And, some of the acting was better than you’d expect, too, especially the two love interests. Emily Yancey, who has recently held lead roles at the Alleyway Theatre as well as American Repertory Theater was Pamina, lovely as ever, and the cute as a button Sarah Bleweth was Papagena, with great comic chops. By the way, the opera opens with an extensive overture featuring a superb ballet artist, Kallista Durbin.

Was it perfection? No. I’m sorry, but the upper strings (violins and violas) of the orchestra were so out of tune I was amazed that the singers weren’t distracted or thrown off. C’mon guys. This is a continuing problem with BOU. In a small chamber orchestra, every player is exposed. Then, for a scene at the temple, the world’s most obnoxious electronic harpsichord was blasted through the house speakers. Really? I understand using a sampling electronic keyboard, but get one that sounds like a harpsichord. And, probably in an attempt to counter-balance the 226-year-old script which has, for 2017, some uncomfortably sexist lines, the voice of the supreme being was a woman. Nice idea; poorly executed. With all of the superb actresses in Buffalo, “the voice” was weak and not inspiring.

So, go for the singing. Really. Good job, Maestro Tim Kennedy! You have one heck of crew up there on stage. Bravo, Brava, Bravi!

NEXT UP: Buffalo Opera Unlimited presents a SALUTE TO BERNSTEIN on April 6, 2018 at Shea’s 710 Theatre (to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth). Then, in December, 2018, the plan is to present Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer-Prize-Winning opera, SILENT NIGHT, about an unofficial truce between soldiers during World War I.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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