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OPERA REVIEW : NYCO Offers ‘Zauberflote’ in Costa Mesa

Times Music Writer

A few minutes before 11 o’clock Wednesday night, some members of the audience at the New York City Opera performance of “Zauberflote” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center were jolted into alertness by a minor earthquake shaking all of Southern California.

That was, for at least one attendee, the most intriguing part of the performance.

Long a specialty of City Opera, Mozart’s Masonic opera in its new, 1987 version--seen on national television 15 months ago, and reviewed in these pages subsequently--does nothing to erase one’s happy memories of Beni Montresor’s 1966 production for the company. If not ideal for some tastes, that version had charms in abundance and took a witty, lighthearted approach to the composer’s Viennese allegory.

Thierry Bosquet’s new production, now being performed at Segerstrom Hall in German--for reasons one can only guess at--reinstates the pomposity of pre-World War II operatic designs and the static qualities associated with picture-post-card sets. His stage designs, executed in the burnished golds and pale roses of the yuppie ‘80s, look flat and institutional. His brilliant, overstated costuming steals the show from all other elements, including the singing.

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Musically, this performance dealt largely in competence, not inspiration. Sergiu Comissiona, the company’s former music director, led a solid, often unmodulated performance that offered loud and raucous, seldom gentle, orchestral playing and too-often monochromatic singing. The cast proved mostly adequate, sometimes better than that.

Elizabeth Hynes, who sang Pamina in the previous production the last time it was given in Los Angeles (in 1982), remains a model protagonist: consistent and lush in sound, a master of the legato line, a strong ensemble colleague, an affecting actress. Her Tamino, Walter MacNeil, also proved a good team player, one whose initially unappealing and limited voice seemed to improve in quality and effectiveness as the evening progressed.

Authoritative but uncharismatic, Rodney Godshall produced a vocally solid, undistinctive Sarastro, one which matched the performance of his female counterpart, Rachel Rosales, who sang a Queen of the Night of small size, unclear tone and only reasonable accuracy.

Stephen Dickson, for once a Papageno without coyness, sang with a solid and handsome tone, meshed dramatically with his colleagues, and recovered superbly when the earthquake hit.Michele McBride was his pert Papagena. And Ruth Golden, Kay Schoenfeld and Rebecca Russell did yeoman’s service as the Three Ladies.

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