Review: ‘Flute’ overwhelmed its staging here

Cambier Park

755 Eighth Avenue South, Naples, FL

— Global warming has not caught up with Opera Naples. But the uncertainties of being a gypsy company and working without understudies have.

All three took a debilitating toll on the company’s final performance of “The Magic Flute” Saturday at the Cambier Park bandshell. Temperatures dropped into the 50s as the evening progressed, sending puffs of chilly air into an unevenly heated protective tent and forcing Lucy Arner to conduct the orchestra in what looked like a heavy sweater.

The sound system revolted several times, overpowering two of the three spirits in their intermittent harmonies. And the low proscenium stage made the opera essentially a live radio broadcast for $25-per-ticket patrons in the rear seats.

Unfortunately, this was not a production that could save itself on its music alone. Despite the fact it was sung in English, at least half the vocals were unintelligible. Many of the minor parts — save for Candice Hoyes as the buoyant Papagena and the Queen of the Night’s three ladies in waiting — were not compelling audibly. And Calvin Ellis Lee’s Monostatos was cast for campy comedy, rather than melodrama, baffling anyone in the back who could only hear his fey fantasies about Pamina.

The production aside, Mozart’s “Magic Flute” is frustrating to parse logically because the plot is fraught with inconsistencies. The heroine princess is kidnapped for no apparent reason by a man depicted as wise, kind and righteous. Her rescuer, handpicked by the queen, is such a milksop he faints fighting a serpent.

And while the queen does a distraught-mama dance about wanting her daughter returned, she later shows up in the victim’s bedroom herself to coldly specify the terms.

So what saves “Flute,” is great music, charming characters and good comedy. That requires a sharp production and top-notch casting. It didn’t happen Saturday.

There were glimmers of a great show. Graham Fandrei lives up to the feather-clad, featherbrained Papageno, Prince Tamino’s batman. He has strong theatrical ability and a solid baritone voice; his courting dance with Papagena, the two circling each other in “pa-pa-pa-pa” delight, is one of the production’s best moments. And because “Flute” is technically a singspiel rather than an opera, there’s spoken dialogue that feeds him ample one-liner opportunities.

Ava Pine (Princess Pamina) has a voice a league apart from everyone else in this production: beautifully modulated, full and expressive. Every time she sang, the temperature shot up 15 degrees. Her plaintive Act II aria (“Ach, ich fühl’s/ Ah, I feel it”) and her early duet with Papageno, “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen/In men who love ...,” are two of “Flute’s” sweetest moments.

Saturday night, for unspecified reasons, Mark Thomsen replaced Colm Fitzmaurice as Prince Tamino, and he was clearly walking on eggs. Thomsen seemed to pick up confidence into the second act, and his voice gained more power. But he spent too much time singing to the director.

In one of the most outsized supporting roles ever created, Corinne Shaefer made a suitably furious Queen of the Night. On Saturday she lost the high note in her opening scene, but dove cleanly into the famous “Hell’s Fury/Helle rache” aria, nailing its Fs above high C without the difficulty her mirror image, Sarastro, had with his low tones.

The uncredited costuming is lovely and thoughtful: kudos for the Queen’s Draculean standup collar and the feathered avian outfits. The set, with its projected backgrounds, seems smartly adaptive. But much of it is too low for the entire audience to see.

“The Magic Flute” is a demanding work to stage, even for companies that have a permanent home. Was it was too ambitious for this opera company, with only four years of experience, no dependable venue and limited means? Saturday night, that appeared to be the case.

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Connect with Harriet Howard Heithaus at naplesnewscom/staff/harriet-howard-heithaus

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