A dark, compact operatic version of a pre-Disney Snow White with a sophisticated score and book based on Pushkin.
by: Joel Benjamin
The dark, yet charming opera The Magic Mirror is a musically rich little gem, using the Alexander Pushkin version of the Snow White fairytale. Presented by the Juventas New Music Ensemble’s Opera Project 2013 (under the music direction of Lidiya Yankovskaya), as part of the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival, that frenzied hurricane of performing arts, the surprise here is that Pushkin’s version is very much like the famous Disney’s (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs); or is it vice versa? The story is virtually the same: The Princess’s (Pushkin’s stand-in for Snow White) Queen Mother dies under mysterious circumstances and her father, the King is beguiled by the Evil Queen who is jealous of her step-daughter’s beauty. Obviously, from the title, there is a mirror that speaks to the Evil Queen and, even to the King as he longs for his dead wife. The Evil Queen sends someone to kill her step daughter in the middle of a forest, but this effort fails and Snow White, er, the Princess finds herself in the house of the Seven Knights (not dwarfs) and eventually is saved by her fiancé, the handsome prince, etc.
Sung in Russian with English supertitles The Magic Mirror told the story with such economic clarity that I forgot to glance up at the translations. (By chance I was sitting next to a Pushkin expert who called him “the Russian Shakespeare” and said that the dialogue was accurate) The music and libretto were written by Polina Nazaykinskaya who’s only 26! She managed to keep the characters alive through her music which, at times, brought to mind Russian folk songs, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. The Queen Mother’s (Noune Karapetian, soprano) music is soft and mournful while her nasty counterpoint, the Evil Queen (Jennifer Weiman, mezzo-soprano), has brighter material with lots of sudden tiny atonal jabs. The King (Andy Papas, baritone) is written as a bit of an over-emotional simpleton who falls under the Evil Queen’s guile. The Princess (“Snow White”) (Erin Anderson, soprano) has loads of lovely music, particularly when she is wandering in the wild forest. She echoes her mother’s music a bit, but uses bits of folk sounding themes. Chernavka (Yelena Dudochkin, soprano), the Evil Queen’s personal maid and the character charged with killing the Princess, has really intense lines to sing as she vacillates and finally does not kill her. The Prince (Oswaldo Iraheta, tenor) is all ardor and pain as he seeks his princess.
There was a small singing ensemble occasionally enlivened and enlarged by incognito principals. The female principals all wore gowns suitable to their characters. The two male principals wore suit jackets. The ensemble wore street clothes over which character defining adornments (hats, masks, etc.) turned them into townspeople and knights. Credit for these costumes and props go to Varvara Sosedova, while the simple scenery, dominated by the famous mirror (“Who’s the fairest….”) and a few benches was by Scott Aronow.
The voices were universally strong, filling the theater to the rafters. Ms. Karapetian’s lovely soprano was matched by her acting which gave dimension to the Queen Mother, even when she was caught in the mirror. Mr. Papas’s baritone was large and manly, belying the surface silliness of his character. His voice reflected his sadness at the loss of his wife. Ms. Anderson, as the Princess, had a wonderful combination of innocence and sultriness. When she entered the house of the seven knights and started cleaning up and cooking for them as she continually sang about missing her home and prince, there was something erotic about it. Mr. Iraheta’s strong tenor made for an ardent and energetic Prince. Ms. Dudochkin’s acting and singing gave depth to what might have been merely a sinister figure. Ms. Weiman’s Evil Queen had the most vivid music to sing and she glamorously made the most of it.
The Juventas New Music Ensemble was terrific. The playing was sophisticated and richly colorful, helped by Ms. Yankovskaya’s musical direction. Erin Huelskamp, the stage director, got what she could from this bare bones production, although some more sophisticated choreography would have helped.
The Magic Mirror is more for adults than childen, although the few kids in the audience appeared to be totally involved. The small cast, the seventy-five minute length and beautiful score should ensure future stagings.
The Magic Mirror
Presented by The Juventas New Music Ensemble
CSV Flamboyan Theater
107 Suffolk St., corner Rivington St.
New York, NY
More Information: www.juventasmusic.com