REVIEW by Leslie Barcza

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Opera York’s Magic Flute

Posted on March 6, 2023 by barczablog

It was worth the drive to Richmond Hill yesterday to see Opera York’s production of The Magic Flute, their first in-person return to the stage since the pandemic. While Friday night’s snow-storm likely reduced attendance, Sunday’s matinee was sold out.

Opera York deliver popular favorites without turning the directors and designers loose to revise the original. If you’re one of those who has been turned off by such updates (you know who you are, some of you discuss this with me regularly): this was the Flute for you.

Stage Director Penny Cookson did not impose upon Schikaneder’s libretto, but instead gave us the work as written, complete with costumes from Amanda Eason and sets from Frank Pasian that match our expectations of this tale of princes & princesses in a faraway land.

Yes there’s magic in these musical instruments, especially in the work of Conductor- Music Director Geoffrey Butler. Mozart would have been pleased with the tempi especially in the finales, and the perfect support given to the singers.

While Opera York is a small organization relying largely on volunteers, without the resources & support given to the big arts companies, they showcased some terrific soloists who raised the standard higher than ever.

Holly Chaplin’s Queen of the Night was sung as well as I’ve ever heard the role sung, and with the aid of Richmond Hill Centre’s superb acoustics, her pinging coloratura was especially dazzling.

I came to the show knowing I’ve get to enjoy Holly Chaplin and tenor Ryan Downey as Tamino, that if all else failed, I’d have the chance to hear their lovely voices. Ryan is one of those rare singers whose pitch is impeccable, with a sweet tone and a personality to match.

No it’s not a competition, but I take exception when the Canadian Opera Company bring in singers from abroad when there are so many excellent Canadians available and needing employment. I found Holly and Ryan better than the people singing their roles with the COC downtown in their 2022 revival of Magic Flute in Toronto, even if we don’t also mention that with the intimate acoustic in RH you could hear these stunning voices (and everyone else) with ease.

Thank goodness for companies such as Opera York or OperOttawa (to mention just two), that are not just offering enjoyable performances but also employing our artists, and staying true to their mission statement:
Opera York’s mission is to provide passionate, professional opera for everyone, and to entertain, enrich, educate, and inspire through full productions, education and community programming. It is to offer professional career opportunities for emerging and established Canadian artists, and to support volunteerism and involvement in the arts within our diverse community.

There were several other good performances to mention.

Stephanie Kim was a wonderfully sympathetic Pamina, Dylan Wright a truly ceremonial figure as Sarastro as though he had stepped out of a Biblical epic, John Holland a loveable everyman as Papageno. Alvaro Vazquez was a weirdly wacky bad guy as Monastotos, Douglas Tranquada a properly fervent Speaker, Grace Quinsey as Papagena stealing the show whenever she peeked out of her disguise, or finally showed up in person. Liv Morton, Veronika Annissimova, and Adriana Albu helped get the show off to a good start as the three ladies, between their singing and silliness. The three spirits in this version were Lori Mak, Ella Farlinger and Katelyn Bird, ably handling some of the prettiest music in the entire opera. Corey Arnold and Austin Larusson as priests were sometimes comical and as the two Armed Men offering us luxury vocals, particularly when Corey & Ryan soar effortlessly in the trial scene.

Foreground Stephanie Kim and Ryan Downey, with Austin Larusson and Corey Arnold in the moments before the trial.

To stay in touch with Opera York’s upcoming work or to read about their past productions follow them on their website.