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A night of magic at the Opera
La Belle Rosette would surely have pirouetted with pleasure at the prospect of her beloved Little Carib Theatre, presenting opera for the very first time.
Paradoxically, for some, this pioneer of Caribbean culture would have been proud at the Little Carib’s first venture into the stratosphere of high culture and high Fs, as it is both an educating and educational project.
Last weekend’s production of Mozart’s final and most popular opera Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by The Classical Music Development Foundation of T&T (CMDTT), was the third instalment of its Young Artist Collective initiative, conceived to provide “performance opportunities for our young singers to explore the operatic repertoire.”
Without exception the young singers, undoubtedly inspired by Natalia Dopwell, CMDTT creative director, who also sang the virtuoso role of Queen of the Night, raised their well-rehearsed vocal chords to the occasion, delivering a performance which they appeared to enjoy as much as the capacity audience.
Maybe some of the magic rubbed off Wolfgang’s flute, because everything about the production serendipitously conspired for success.
First and most important, were the acoustics of the refurbished Little Carib, which allowed the cast to be heard unplugged, creating an intimate, organic chamber music ambience.
Secondly, the choice to use an abridged version of the original score (which runs for nearly three hours) was not only practical but also kind to performers and audience alike; the two 45-minute acts allowing opera initiates to sample Mozart at his operatic best and grasp the plot outline without being transfixed in their seats.
In line with this minimalist approach, rather than a full symphony orchestra, accompaniment was provided by Katy Gainham on eponymous flute, Enrique Ali on piano and Von Best on percussion, focusing audience attention on the singers conducted by June Nathaniel.
Director Hilwig Helmer, veteran of so many theatrical and musical productions, modestly took responsibility for the stage set of Beckettian sparseness, which in Act II was embellished by Margaret Sheppard’s costuming (particularly that of the magus Sarastro) to give a hint of the Masonic influence in Schikneder’s libretto.
Finally, the choice of Mozart’s Magic Flute made for an excellent introduction to the opera genre for first timers–whether onstage or off. Although nominally Singspiel –combining singing with spoken dialogue, the Flute also spans serious opera (with its Enlightenment tropes of the search for wisdom and virtue) and Opera Buffa-the lighter comic style, as instanced in the Papageno sub plot, which in its presentation of human frailty and quest for love, counter balances the loftier themes of the libretto. Musically, too, the range from Papageno’s folk melodies to the virtuoso arias of the Queen of Night provides variety for the audience and realistic challenges for the young singers, some of whom were making their operatic debuts.
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