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Noah Grove as Papageno and Zachary Rioux as Tamino in Glenn Gould School’s Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute 
Photo credit: Nicola Betts

Of course, with the Magic Flute, the appeal is mainly in the music. As Robert Harris wrote in his book The Stratford Lectures: Ten Perspectives about Music, without Mozart writing the music to accompany The Magic Flute, ”it would have been utterly forgotten within weeks maybe days” of its première in 1791. Harris says there has never been any doubt why he loves the opera above all Mozart’s other operas – almost above all other operas. It’s in the music.

It takes exquisite singing and impeccable orchestral accompaniments to bring out the sublime musical charms that Mozart gave us. The Glenn Gould School came through both vocally and instrumentally. It didn’t hurt that they had Maestro Nathan Brock on the podium. Brock, who is currently Kappellmeister of the Hamburische Staatsoper is no stranger to the Glenn Gould School. He brought his operatic experience and high energy to the music. The orchestra played exquisitely. The exposed solos were performed confidently and masterly. From the fugal opening of the overture, there was clarity in the playing. A shout-out to the principal flute Emily Phernambourq  is in order for her ‘magical’ flute solos.

The opera is nothing without fine singing, and the vocal students of the Glenn Gould School were more than up to the task. In total, seventeen singers from the school participated. There wasn’t a weak link among them. Of course, Papageno always steals the show in this opera, and Noah Grove gave a superb performance both comically and vocally. Kateryna Khartova was delightful in her role as Pamina. Her aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s” was a highlight of the performance. Nofar Yacobi as Queen of the Night pulled off her high “F”s and nasty arpeggios in her famous aria as well as her beautifully lyrical moments. The only “ringer” in the cast was recent GGS alumnus Gabriel Sanchez Ortega whose mature bass-baritone voice gave the role of Sarastro the meditative spirit it requires. Zachary Rioux was another standout in the cast with his warm tenor voice. The Three Ladies and the Three Spirits were most effective in their ensemble singing.

These singers are the real deal. What separates them from the stars of the operatic world are just a few years in practice rooms and performances such as this one. It’s an incredibly competitive world but perseverance and the guidance they are getting at GGS will bring limitless possibilities. 

Noah Grove as Papageno and Zachary Rioux as Tamino in Glenn Gould School’s Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute 
Photo credit: Nicola Betts

Glenn Gould School’s The Magic Flute hits all the right buttons!

I have seen three Magic Flutes in the past two years and each one has been a very satisfying experience, albeit very different. There was the 2017 production by the COC that was conceived as a play within a play to help the audience suspend disbelief in the improbable storyline with a three-headed serpent killed mysteriously by three ladies in black robes. Then, just a few months ago at the Met, there was a remarkable production with Papageno dressed in a green bird-cage costume, three spirits transported through the air on the back of a huge bird and three ladies hiding behind their masks, all clearly designed to appeal to audiences of all ages. Both productions were spectacles of lavish embellishment, as impressive for costumes and sets as for their impeccable musical values.

This past week’s production by the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory began with a very different premise. The term ‘less is more’ was never more appropriate. This production, directed by Joel Ivany, gave the audience an evening of satisfying music, comedic energy and clear story-telling. It is a tribute to GGS that a superb cast, orchestra and production team could be assembled to give not just a satisfying, but in every way a splendid performance.

The decision to have the spoken dialogue in English with all the singing in the original German was masterful. I’m sure Mozart would have approved. After all, as an opera buffa with spoken dialogue between arias much like an operetta, it was meant to be performed in the vernacular for mass appeal. At the same time, the German singing gave the student performers a much-needed skill-building experience.

The set designed by Anna Treusch comprised just five panels decorated with Masonic symbols, a checkerboard floor and two benches. The blue and white colours added to the simplicity of the peripherals. Ivany gave the responsibility to each performer to make the show compelling. The costumes by Ming Wong were 18th century period appropriate to each role but never overpowering the performers. The comedy depended on the actors’ skills. The story-telling, as convoluted as it is, came through because of the truthful energy of the collective. Throughout the improbable plot there is a balance of philosophical reflection and moralizing along side slapstick comedy. 

Kateryna Khartova as Pamina, Christopher Miller as Monostatos in Glenn Gould School’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute; photo credit: Nicola Betts

Not only was the production an artistic success in terms of the audience, it was a wonderful vehicle for the training of young artists. Often, there are compromises in terms of the quality of the music or drama in operas chosen for student performances. Not here! The school met the challenges of a great work by engaging the finest artistic leadership group and thoroughly preparing each of the student artists for the task. Certain challenges of the work were overcome in creative ways. The chorus was pre-recorded, and three female students sang the roles of the Three Spirits instead of the usual boy sopranos.

Congratulations to the Glenn Gould School for yet another major success!

​​Review by  David Richards
oronto ON March 24th 2019