A magical performance of Mozart

The Baltimore Sun

In its English offering this week of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Opera AACC calls upon the talents of Anne Arundel Community College faculty members, Maryland-based singers and 15 students from county elementary, middle and high schools. The shows, including today's at 3 p.m., will be presented at AACC's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts.

James Harp, the artistic administrator of the Baltimore Opera, is the stage director of AACC's production, and Anna Binneweg, AACC's music director, is music director and conductor. The opera offers a delightful experience for the entire family. Aficionados will enjoy this unique work portraying each character in distinctive themes, and newcomers will find much to admire, including the costumes designed by John Lehmeyer and constructed by A.T. Jones.

From the overture's three distinctive opening chords, the continually improving and fuller-sounding AACC orchestra expressed the fairy tale's lightness with dark undertones. Throughout Monday evening's first dress rehearsal, the orchestra under Binneweg's direction proved strong.

"The Magic Flute," which had its premiere in 1791, is essentially a fairy tale that offers adventure in its fearsome Queen of the Night, mysterious philosophy in Sarastro, the high priest, a hint of danger in the evil Monostatos, comedy in bird-catcher Papageno, a love affair between Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina, gentle guidance from the Three Spirits and earthy humor from the Three Ladies. A number of children add their special charm.

A matter of historical speculation are Mozart's suspected Masonic references, some scholars finding them in the opening three chords likened to a secret knocking at a Masonic lodge door. Most important in this two-act opera is Mozart's wondrous mix of enchanting arias, fancy coloratura, tender love duets and lively marches to portray each character.

The role of Papageno is sung by AACC's Performing Arts chairman, Douglas Byerly, who brings his fine baritone voice and comic acting skills to the role. As the Three Ladies who save Prince Tamino from the serpent, Annie Gill, Nicole Bowers and Diana Cantrelle create vocal harmony and delightful comedy. Tenor Frederic Rey sings the role of Prince Tamino, who falls in love with Pamina, the Queen of the Night's daughter, delivering an ardent "Portrait Aria" early on and a later heartfelt love duet with Pamina.

As the Queen of the Night, AACC's Joy Greene sings the Queen's challenging coloratura aria requiring four high Fs, delivering these notes and displaying vocal agility throughout along with a convincing fearsome quality unlike anything displayed in her usual lighter roles.

AACC's esteemed soprano Mary Anne Barcellona is convincing as Princess Pamina, displaying Pamina's affectionate nature, her fear that she might have lost Tamino after his oath of silence forces him to ignore her, and her continued devotion to her demanding Queen of the Night mother. Barcellona's first duet with Tamino is exquisite, her duet with Byerly's Papageno is charming, and her aria expressing her desolation at Tamino's deserting her is touching.

Papagena is stylishly played by Rachel Sitomer who brings zest and comic skills to the role. Michael Collins plays Sarastro, conveying the proper dignity and spirituality. J. Austin Bitner plays the role of Monostatos with the right threatening quality.

The costumes are a gorgeous testament to the talents of the late John Lehmeyer, opera director and costume designer for Baltimore Opera and Washington Summer Opera, who died in 2002 at age 62. The set design is by multitalented Joy Ajello, who also serves as box office and house manager.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $12 for seniors and $5 for AACC students. To reserve, call 410-777-2457.

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