Ridiculous and still magical 'Flute'
By STEVE BURTON
Anyone who puts on a performance of Mozart's
"Magic Flute" must first decide how seriously to
take the piece. There are two basic approaches:
The Magic Flute
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
March 24, 1994
the ridiculous - "this is obviously goofy so we
might as well be up front about it" - and the
sublime - "despite strong evidence to the contrary
this isn't goofy and we mustn't think that it is."
The ridiculous approach is perhaps best
exemplified by Ingmar Bergman's film version of
the opera, which charmingly rubs in the silliness
at every opportunity. The sublime-approach, on
the other hand, is best represented by Otto
Klemperer's famous recording, shorn of the creaky
dialogue and with no visual element to remind one
of just how silly it all is.
Just about everything that takes place on stage
in this opera is, after all, a stumbling block to any
attempt to take the work seriously. So the safest
approach, especially in a student production
without the sort of heavyweight voices that can
ride roughshod over that block, is the ridiculous.
Thus it is the sincerest compliment to say that
the School of Music Opera Theatre and University
Philharmonia's production of "The Magic Flute"
which opened last night in Lydia Mendelssohn
Theatre is delightfully, triumphantly ... ridiculous.
Much of the triumph is due to director Joshua
Major. His sets based on the work of the surrealist
painter Magritte turns out to be a wonderful
inspiration. Magritte himself is as ambiguous a
case as this opera: is he serious, or isn't he? His
trademark bowler hats and blue sky dotted with
clouds add to the lightness of the production,
hinting gently atmysteriesjust beneath the surface.
The whimsical mood set by the stage design is
maintained by Francesca Callow's flamboyant
costumes; her outfit for the Queen of the Night
deserves special mention for sheer fabulousness.
Vocally, Thursday night's performance was
anchored by the outstanding Sarastro of Timothy
Jones. He combined great beauty of tone with an
impressive sense of authority, a quality essential
in this character. Moreover his diction was superb
- every word clearly and beautifully shaped and
projected on his lowest notes, which were more
than secure by modern standards.
Also excellent was Kyle Marrero's Papageno.
This is a role that can hardly go wrong, and that
with an attractive voice and charming stage
presence can hardly fail to steal the show -
which, to judge by the audiences enthusiastic
response, is exactly what it did this time.
Lisa Ann Romero as the Queen of the Night
combined a larger than life stage presence with a
strong, dramatic voice. Her coloratura was
attractive in tone, but not always reliable (e.g. her
first act aria). Her big second act numberseemed
more rehearsed, and added up to an honorable
attempt at an all but impossible challenge.
As the hero and heroine, Tamino and Pamina,
Darryl Taylor and Jennifer Vanessa Bird turned
in attractive performances that displayed their
bright, youthful voices to good advantage. Taylor
tended to show strain on top, while Bird's
intonation was not always beyond reproach, but
both added to the overall success of the evening.
THE MAGIC FLUTE plays tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the
Mendelssohn Theatre. All performances are
Pianist Perahia's deeply
By STEVE BURTON
It would be easy to write a plausible review of a Murray Perahia recital
without attending: few pianists have so pronounced and consistent a public
image. One has only to trot out a few words like "sensitive" and "poetic" and
"spiritual" to capture the overall impression, throw in a mention of "delicate"
here and "gracious" there, and conclude that one has rarely experienced so
deeply satisfying aperformance. Follow these simple rules and no one is likely
to be the wiser if one was actually at
PN .home watching "Beverly Hills
Mur Perahia 90210."
On the other hand, one had better
Hill Auditorium avoid words like "athletic" and
March 23, 1994 "powerful" and "muscular," or one is
likely to be found out. No one in the
music reviewing business ever uses these words in reference to Perahia.
All this presents a problem for the reviewer. To wit: suppose that, having
actually attended Perahia's concert Wednesday night in Hill Auditorium, one
found his performances to be sensitive, poetic, spiritual, delicate and gracious
where appropriate - but not particularly athletic or powerful or muscular.
Suppose the conventional wisdom turned out to be right. Then what is there
left for one to say that will come as news to anyone?
Well, perhaps one could say exactly what in Perahia's playing encourages
adjectives like "poetic" and discourages ones like "athletic."
It is not, after all, as if he never plays loudly; he can coax all the volume
that is there to be coaxed out of a Steinway - which is a lot of volume - and
he does not hesitate to do so when the music calls for it. Yet it is the passages
of relative quiet that grip one in his performances, and linger in the memory.
In the first movement of Beethoven's Second Piano Sonata, fast scalar
passages in the composer's most "unbuttoned" early manner alternate with
slower, quieter passages; in Perahia's hands the former were very fast indeed
and relatively strict in rhythm, while the latter were much freer, incorporating
big ritardandi and expressive hesitations that made them almost languorous
- not an expression one usually associates with early Beethoven. This seems
to be the key, for the effect was to italicize these passages,and make them stand
out through their expressive flexibility.
This same pattern - louder passages played relatively straight, quieter and
slower passages rendered with much greater latitude - was repeated in other
large works on the program, notably the Brahms B minor Rhapsody Op. 79,
No. 1, and the Chopin Ballade No. 2. An exception to this rule was Chopin's
Ballade No. 4, the concluding work on the program. Its tumultuous final
section was played with both force and flexibility, to exciting effect.
Nonetheless, the deepest impression was made by such introspective
works as the Brahms E-flat minor Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 6 and the Chopin
Mazurka Op. 17, No. 4 - the latter an exquisitely melancholy piece with
unexpected lapses into fantasy which Perahia disclosed with just the right air
of dreamy confidentiality.
In places Perahia showed a tendency to produce too thick a sonority in the
bass, which covered attractive figurations in the treble the way an undisciplined
orchestra can cover a'soprano with insufficient lung-power. This problem
afflicted Perahia's account of Chopin's Fourth Etude and Chopin's Ballade
But neither this nor less-than-immaculate playing in the first movement of
the Beethoven should detract too much from what was, on the whole - what
was the phrase? - a deeply satisfying performance, such as one rarely
Hey, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are all tied up. Depending on your taste, "The Ref" could be the movie for you.
. ....1 ........ . . .. f ..., . .. f _ _.. _ .._ .. _ " . v
Denis Leary 1
By CHRIS LEPLEY
It's hard to get excited about a
Christmas movie that comes out in
March, but "The Ref" is well worth
the money despite the seasonal
Written by Richard LaGravenese
and Marie Weiss; directed by Ted
Demme; with Denis Leary, Judy
Davis and Kevin Spacey.
discrepancy. Denis Leary has been
the king of bad movies these past
years, what with "Demolition Man,"
"Judgment Night" and "Gunmen"
under his belt. Here he tries something
new: playing a nice guy anti-hero
who solves the problems in adecaying
yuppie marriage by taking an entire
family hostage on Christmas Eve.
Denis Leary stars as Gus, a thief
who has the bad luck to break into the
house of Jeremiah Willard the
"Amusement Park King," someone
who loves to booby trap his valuables
with cat-piss dispensers and rabid
dogs. Then Gus hijacks a woman he
thought was alone, only to find out
that her husband just wouldn't come
into the store with her. Caroline and
Lloyd (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey)
are the hapless couple who use the
hijacking as fuel in their bickering.
Due to the sheer idiocy of his
partner, Murray (Richard Bright), Gus
is forced to retreat to the couple's
spacious Victorian home, where the
tables are turned and he becomes their
prisoner, psychologically and
emotionally. As if the one couple
weren't enough, Caroline and Lloyd
are expecting guests for dinner. Their
young son Jesse(RobertJ. Steinmiller,
Jr.) is returning from military school,
where he has just made another
collection in his blackmail of one of
the instructors. Lloyd's domineering
mother, Rose (Glynis Johns, best
remembered as the mother in "Mary
Poppins") and his brother's family
are all coming to the annual Christmas
gathering, and Gus becomes forced to
masquerade as Caroline and Lloyd's
marriage counselor, Dr. Wong.
Although "The Ref" is one hell of
a funny movie, ripping off the mask
that most families don during the
holidays and exposing people for the
complete shits that they are, it's also
dramatic and touching. Caroline and
Lloyd still love each other, and still
want each other, too, even if those
feelings don't emerge until they're
tied together with bungie cords.
Judy Davis is incredible as the
stressed-out housewife who fills her
M The Ref'
time with Scandinavian cooking
classes and can only truly express her
feelings after she's had a few drinks.
Kevin Spacey holds his own with
Davis, dramatically and comedically.
But Denis Leary is the star of this
picture, and he's the reason it comes
off so well, and the reason that it'sjust
a slight bit disappointing. Director
Ted Demme keeps Leary on a tight
leash, never allowing him to launch
into one of his patented 20-minute
tirades. That's good since Leary
doesn't appear to be rehashing his old
stand-up like he did in "Demolition
Man," but it hampers the development
of his character. Gus is reduced to a
bystander, when what the audience
really wants to see is him ranting and
raving and giving us his take on the
situation. He does that to some extent,
but for the most part, it's just a teasing
taste of what he's capable of.
Unlike the drek that Hollywood
has been shoveling our way lately
labeled 'comedy,' (films like "Ace
Ventura" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" that
seem geared towards three-year olds),
"The Ref" is on par with television
"dramadies" like "Northern
Exposure" and early "L.A. Law," with
a quick pace and wit to spare.
THE REF is now playing at
All right, if you're looking
around for something to do tonight,
head on down to the Michigan
Theater and treat yourself to the
southern-fried rock of Widespread
Panic, arguably the best of the "new
hippie" bands that are so popular
today. Where other bands seem to
float off into space, Widespread
Panic keep their jams grounded in a
Southern-fried rock& blues groove
that makes their instrumental
excursions intoxicating, not
indulgent. In the last year, the band
toured incessantly, including a
show-stealing stint on the
H.O.R.D.E. festival. Before they
go in the studio to record the follow-
up to the successful "Everyday,"
Widespread Panic hits the road
again, making a stop in Ann Arbor
tonight. Tickets for their Michigan
Theatershow are $12.50in advance;
doors open at 8 p.m.
Tickets go on sale Saturday
morning at 10 a.m. for Depecie
Mode's show at Pine Knob on July
4. There are no confirmations, but
the word on the streets is that Primal
Scream will open.
Barbra 'Like Butta'
And speaking of tickets, the
amazing Miss Streisand just
announced that she will appear at
the Palace of Auburn Hills for two
shows, May 15 and 17. Wristbands
are now available at all the usual
TlcketMaster outlets. Tickets goon
sale at noon, and sometime before
that TicketMaster will pick a
random number. The wristband with
that number will be the first person
in line. So just because you have a
wristband, that doesn't mean you
have a ticket. And when you do get
a ticket, be prepared to shell out the
bucks. Yes, it's a big hassle, but it's
Barbra - the woman who swore
she would never sing live again!
And remember, she's like butta!
Best of Ann Arbor Ballot '94
Please return by April1 to the Daily at 420 Maynard, 48109. Results will be printed in the April 14 Best of Ann Arbor issue of Weekend. Thanks for your time.
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