The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Candid Concert Opera brings a pared down performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to Edgerton with enchanting results. | May 13, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Founder and music director Codrut Birsan has been moving on steadily with his Chicago-based Candid Concert Opera project. I was lucky to catch his latest presentation at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior and concert hall) on this past Saturday evening, May 11. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Birsan speaking with excerpts from a production of “Die Fledermaus.”)

edgerton performing arts center exterior

Edgerton PAC stage

Edgerton is blessed to have so fine a performance venue as that incorporated into its high school.  The house is ample, the acoustics excellent, the sightlines uniformly open, and the seating comfortable. Its annual seasons are full of fine visiting ensembles, and it is to the particular credit of Edgerton’s stellar benefactor, William Wartmann (below), that an effort is made to attract operatic offerings.  For those, Madisonians can find it worthwhile to make the trip down to this quiet and welcoming little city.

wiiliam wartmann

The CCO production this time was a version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” sung in the original German, with English surtitles projected.  One of the defining patterns of evolution that Birsan has made is gradually to develop a mini-orchestral accompaniment for his presentations.  This time, he had the largest showing yet: 13 players, made up of four winds (one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), eight strings, and piano. 

Candid Concert Opera 8

This group, conducted by Birsan (below), made a credible Mozartean sound, even when shorn of brass and timpani.

Codrut Birsan

Such restrictions meant some sacrifices, such as the symbolic three chords of Freemasonry. Indeed, much of Mozart’s Masonic imagery was bypassed for a simplified story of the main characters. In the inevitable cutting, we lost the Three Boys, and the two Armed Men, along with a few musical numbers.

The spoken dialogue was gone also, with a narrator (Tom Kastle, below on the far right) filling in the context for the numbers.  With all that, we were still left with a big bundle of Mozart’s wonderful music.  And, marshaling his solo singers, Birsan was able to deliver some of the important choral work.  Indeed, his clever trimming and adjusting resulted in a very enjoyable show.

Tom Kastle far right

As usual, he could draw upon a lot of young vocal talent from the Chicago area.  Their names will be unfamiliar, but–who knows–some of them might develop into famous singers.

The men were a mixed group.  Their standout was Dan Richardson (below top), who has a very appealing baritone voice, and who displayed real acting talent as the comic birdman Papageno. Tenor Javier Bernard has a pleasant voice, but needed a bit more strength and projection as Prince Tamino. Bass Neil Edwards had the vocal dignity of Sarastro, but lacked full power in the crucial lower notes of his solos.  With a limited tenor voice but a lively acting flair, Eric Mason (below bottom) was delightful as the wicked slave Monostatos.

Dan Richardson

Eric Mason USE BW headshot

More uniform were the women. Soprano Amanda Compton (below) was pert and winning as the birdgirl Papagena. Remarkable strength, ensemble, and stage presence were displayed by the Three Ladies (Leila Bowie, Marci Wagnon Jackson, and Robin Bradley).

amanda compton

As the Queen of the Night, soprano Amanda Kingston (below) had ringing tone and strong personality.  Her command of the fearsome high-range pyrotechnics was somewhat challenged in her first big aria, but was much more secure in the second. 

Amanda Kingston

The star of the show in general, however, was Chelsea Morris (below) as Pamina: her firm, truly beautiful voice, with absolute technical confidence, offered consistently lovely singing.

Chelsea Morris soprano

The staging (below) was, even more than usual, minimal, with the sequence of numbers indeed like a standup concert progression.  Still, some interaction of the singers, lots of body language, and some simple movements, all sustained the sense of theater.

Candid Concert Opera 9

Birsan’s CCO deserves support and delivers satisfaction in bringing opera in direct ways to wider audiences.  Next season it will offer Rossini’s “La Cenerentola and Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.”  Watch for them, wherever they turn up.


3 Comments »

  1. Many thanks Jake for providing space for John Barker’s comprehensively apt survey of this marvelous event last Saturday in Edgerton! Codrut Birsan’s Candid Concert Opera remains an important way to bring opera to contemporary audiences, even as its base shifts from Madison to Chicago. Your clip
    https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/classical-music-candid-concert-opera-brings-a-pared-down-performance-of-mozarts-the-magic-flute-to-edgerton-with-enchanting-results/#comments
    reminds us of the wonderful talent he found here in the Madison area; we can hope that he will call on some of that local talent as he casts upcoming productions!

    Comment by Dan Shea — May 13, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  2. I want to take an opportunity to remember the birthday of a Madison musician who touched the lives and formed the minds of so many of us: ellsworth snyder.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — May 13, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    • HI Susan,
      I was unaware of the date, but I completely share your sentiment.
      ellsworth snyder touched us and gave so many gifts of musical and painterly beauty.
      I miss him too.
      So many thanks and heartfelt thanks for the reminder and the remembrance.
      Yours,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 13, 2013 @ 9:26 am


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