Mozart/Schikaneder, Die Zauberflöte at Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre
Directed by Paul Houghtaling
Conducted by Kelly Crandell
The most accurate way I can sum up Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is that it is direct. This is in fact, a compliment of the highest order. There is no pretension here, no fussiness. Paul Houghtaling’s direction is self-effacing. The clean, pure lines of the opera are brought to life in the practicality of the set and the actions of the singers. A circular walkway encloses the orchestra, making Mozart’s music the central player. The performance itself seemed to me a splendid and solemn ritual, enacted around the players, ably led by conductor Kelly Crandell and concertmistress Irene Fitzgerald-Cherry. The comic elements were, for once, in balance with the more serious tone to which the music returns incessantly. Brian Kuhl’s steadfast Tamino and Mary Thorne’s clear-voiced Pamina were priest-like in their steadiness and pristine vocalism. Charles Martin as Sarastro sang instead of orated, and in his second aria showed tenderness as well as strength. Of course, Andrew Pardini stole the show as Papageno — Schikaneder knew what he was doing. But not by flouncing around, rather by making a complete character — someone you felt you knew by the end of the opera. As always in this venue, the audience was a major participant. I know of no other crowd that reacts so naturally and freely, so expansively, as this audience. This was not a hoity-toity event; it had a constant reality in the ears of its listeners. The building also almost seems to sing. It owns its own rhythm and resonance. Mozart became an almost compulsive listener to Die Zauberflöte performances in the last weeks of his life. He said that his favorite part of the experience was hearing the silent applause which the audience gave his music. I heard a lot of that Saturday night at Hubbard Hall.
Christoph Wolff’s new book Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791 has taught me a lot about “Die Zauberflöte.” 1 Most wonderfully and reasonably, it has suggested that the music at the end of Mozart’s life was not a finality, but a beginning. A beginning of a kind of music never-before heard. It comes from Bach, but that is only its fundament. It goes on to become Wagner. Listen to the great scene with the Speaker in Act I, and you will hear a kind of music that no one had heard before 1791. Something like a combination of opera seria, the Matthew Passion, and Parsifal. Mr. Wolff has shown me what I already knew: that this scene is the rarest music in the opera, entirely new. It constantly goes on to become; it knows no beginning nor end. We simply begin to hear it, and then we stop hearing it. And in these bars we hear the kind of lucidity and sharpness that would surely have become a new world of music had time allowed. It was gravely and richly voiced at the Hall by Mr. Kuhl and Jeff Martin as the Speaker. Mozart was not expecting to die when Die Zauberflöte was written. He was making, hearing a new beginning. The clarity and naturalness of this production was in harmony with this knowledge. In a opera notoriously hard to cast, Alixina Jones has once again given us a performance which goes to the heart of the matter.
- Composer John Harbison stressed this in his introductory talk to Emmanuel Music’s concert performance of La Clemenza di Tito last April. For a reference to that and further discussion, see Michael Miller’s “The Music of Mozart’s Last Months.” ↩