Die Zauberflöte
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In Review > North America

Die Zauberflöte

SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco Opera
10/20/15

DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE  returned to San Francisco Opera in a revival of Jun Kaneko’s animated, eye-catching 2012 production of Mozart’s opera with two company debuts and two eleventh-hour cast changes. Bowing on opening night (Oct. 20) was conductor Lawrence Foster, who led a youthful cast, including several participants in the company’s young artist training wing, on an assured progress through the rustic humor, lofty spiritual effusions, and philosophical search for love and valor in the composer’s masterpiece.

The evening began with an announcement by general director David Gockley that the production’s scheduled Queen of the Night, soprano Albina Shagimuratova, was indisposed; her cover, Kathryn Bowden, was standing by to assume the role. Jacqueline Piccolino, scheduled to sing the First Lady, was also ailing, and was replaced by Julie Adams, one of the company’s Adler fellows.

Both proved capable, although Bowden’s Act I appearance initially registered as cautious rather than fully committed. By Act II, Bowden found her footing, delivering “Der hölle Rache” in full voice and punching out her glittering high Fs with assurance. Adams, meanwhile, blended effectively with Nian Wang and Zanda Švēde in the music for the Three Ladies. 

The production’s star turn, however, was the Pamina of soprano Sarah Shafer, who sang the role with an appealing blend of unerring pitch, dramatic depth, and effortless high notes. Paul Appleby, making his company debut, was a forceful, ardent Tamino. Baritone Efraín Solís, a second year Adler fellow, made an endearing Papageno, his warm characterization and relaxed comic skills overcoming the occasional tonal imprecision. Bass-baritone Alfred Reiter was a solid, if unremarkable, Sarastro, but bass Anthony Reed, another current Adler fellow, impressed as an uncommonly articulate Speaker. Greg Fedderly’s antic Monostatos and Maria Valdes’s vivacious Papagena each brought welcome energy to their roles.

Gockley’s English translation, with added material by Ruth and Thomas Martin, presumably aimed for “accessibility” in colloquial language—Papageno, for instance, becomes “a sustainable birdcatcher”—but the jokes, simultaneously unspooling in supertitles, often landed with a thud. The arias didn’t always fall trippingly from the tongue, either: “Ach, ich fühl’s,” it seemed, is still better served in the original German.

Kaneko’s production, co-owned by Opera Omaha, Washington National Opera, Opera Carolina and Lyric Opera of Kansas City, is a relentlessly kinetic creation featuring animated projections that fill the stage with grids, blocks and squiggles in crayon colors; outsize creatures, including whimsical birds and a two-headed dragon, enliven the scheme. Kaneko’s costumes—a mixture of space-age and samurai chic—were nicely offset by Paul Pyant’s lighting. Harry Silverstein’s stage direction kept the moving parts smoothly coordinated, yet occasionally left individual characters at loose ends. 

Foster, who holds the post of music director of Opera de Marseille, wasn’t new to the War Memorial: the Los Angeles native made his first appearance in the house at age nineteen, leading the San Francisco Ballet. But this was Foster’s San Francisco Opera debut, and he acquitted himself well, maintaining lively tempos in the comic scenes and eliciting expansive playing in the score’s transcendent moments. Ian Robertson’s Chorus followed suit, singing with affecting grace in the temple scenes.  —Georgia Rowe 

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