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Baritone Debuts in ‘Magic Flute’

December 15, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Matthias Goerne, a German baritone who has sung solemn music in recital here, made his Metropolitan Opera debut in a comic part, Papageno in Mozart’s ``The Magic Flute.″

Mozart can blend the comical and the serious in masterly fashion. In ``The Magic Flute,″ which the Met performed for the first time this season on Monday night, Tamino (Paul Groves) undergoes trials to become a member of the Masons and to win a wife, Pamina (Dawn Upshaw).

Papageno (Goerne) is the common man who doesn’t have the courage to face trials. ``I’ll stay single,″ he sings. But he wins Papagena (Yvonne Gonzales) anyway because he has remained good-hearted.

The two create the opera’s comic relief. Goerne was funny, turning his bird-billed cap around backwards, twisting his body into a position of terror and sidling up to Papagena. He he didn’t overdo it, which heightened the humorous effect. The extended music of Papageno’s part allowed Goerne to show the richness and emotional depth of his voice.

Pamina can be a bland character. Upshaw gives her personality. She begins with a flexible, light, silvery tone, conveys serenity in some scenes, pathos in some and agitation when Tamino, as one of his tests, can’t talk to her. Groves’ Tamino is vocally centered and sincere-sounding.

Franz-Josef Selig, a German bass, also made an impressive debut as Sarastro, high priest of the temple. His voice is focused, sounds youthful but dignified and has the range for the part’s lowest notes. Selig, who made his opera debut nine years ago, has sung Sarastro in La Scala, Chicago and Vienna and will sing the role in Salzburg and Paris.

American soprano Laura Aikin made her Met debut the same evening, as the Queen of the Night. Instead of the usually explosive, florid approach, Aikin sang the music leading to the coloratura outbursts with quiet lyricism. She also sang the coloratura without fireworks. She hit the highest notes but didn’t hit every note equally squarely.

The Queen of the Night and Monostatos (Dennis Petersen) are the evil characters in the opera. She wants power and attempts murder to get it. He is foiled before he can rape Pamina.

The three boys, Mikhail Kofman, Alexander Ebin and Alexander Waldron, blended very well in harmonies difficult for children.

Charles Mackerras, who understands the opera well, conducted. The production by John Cox, with sets and costumes by David Hockney, was new in 1991.

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