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Madison Opera: Mozart's "Magic Flute"

Mozart: The Magic Flute, K. 620

Pamina: Rebecca Caine, soprano
Tamino: Kip Wilborn, tenor
Papageno: Jeff Morrissey, baritone
Queen of the Night: Erie Mills, soprano
Sarastro: Bruce Baumer, bass
Madison Symphony Orchestra
John DeMain, conductor


It was bound to happen -- my best superlatives all used up and along comes a performance to eclipse all previous raves. The Madison Opera's production of Mozart's Magic Flute Friday evening at the Oscar Mayer Theatre was way beyond any other opera performance I've ever seen in Madison. It was about as good as you'll see anywhere.

With John DeMain on the podium, 36 members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra provided a solid foundation for a large cast of mostly quite young but thoroughly accomplished singers. Tenor Kip Wilborn's voice is gorgeous and clear throughout its range, and his Tamino was a kind and sincere character. Jeff Morrisey brought just the right amount of bumptiousness to the role of Papageno, in the process displaying a full, rich and flexible baritone of considerable subtlety. Soprano Rebecca Caine has a sure, steady voice, and her rendition of Pamina was touching and wonderfully lyrical. As the Queen of the Night, Erie Mills delivered the two stratospheric coloratura arias with suitably haughty panache, though not with the vocal ease one one might have liked. Bruce Baumer's Sarastro was gentle but grave. Some of the difficulty he experienced vocally is Mozart's doing: Baumer did well in the upper register of his voice, but the low notes were too low for him. The other roles, the setting, lighting and stage direction were all of excellent quality.

This last of Mozart's great operas, though full of comic elements, glorifies the high-minded Masonic idealism that was close to the composer's heart. The libretto, though mostly serious, strikes our ears today as somewhat preposterous and vaguely overblown. The production met this challenge by allowing the work's lighter aspects to prevail, and left it to the incomparable genius of Mozart -- this performance beautifully realizing what is surely some of the most sublime music ever written -- to embody humanity's highest ideals.

I was at first startled to hear the opera being sung in English, but accessibility is perhaps especially important as the Madison Opera sets out to build its own organizational, audience and support bases following its separation from the Symphony as a local arts enterprise. I doubt they need be too worried. They can at least feel perfectly secure that this first effort achieved a lofty and fully professional apex of quality. Many bravos to all concerned.

Isthmus, April, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson

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