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Subject: 'Stein der Weisen'- the Globe's review
From: Michael Lorenz <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Michael Lorenz <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 31 Oct 1998 14:25:21 +0100
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MUSIC REVIEW
Boston Baroque rediscovers Mozart
By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff, 10/31/98 
  

Last night Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque gave a modern audience the
rare privilege of some bits of music, most probably written by Mozart, that
no one has heard in nearly 200 years. 

The occasion was a concert performance of ''The Philosopher's Stone,'' a
collaborative opera written by and for the company that a year later
produced ''The Magic Flute.'' One duet from this work, which has been
recorded, has long been attributed to Mozart; a manuscript that the
musicologist David Buch discovered in Hamburg not long ago assigns two
other short sections to Mozart. 

The duet is a novelty number, like the Papagena-Papageno duet from ''The
Magic Flute'' - the comedy-baritone confronts a wife who can no longer
speak but only meow like a cat. The voicing of the woodwind parts has a
Mozartean elegance, and the piece is droll and charming. The finale of the
second act brings us the couple again in another meowing episode that
Mozart might have written, and then there's another short passage attibuted
to Mozart; it is a duet more learned in counterpoint than a lot of ''The
Philosopher's Stone.'' 

But the real interest of the opera doesn't lie exclusively or even
primarily in these few minutes of music; the opera as a whole casts a
fascinating new light on the universally-beloved ''Magic Flute.'' The
libretto features comparable characters and situations and uses some of the
same resources of the theater, including its props (a birdcage and a
padlock). It is a more extravagant text but also a more solidly carpentered
one; there are questions in ''The Magic Flute'' one can't get to the end
of, but this libretto ties up everything pretty neatly. 
There can be no question that Mozart knew and enjoyed ''The Philosopher's
Stone.'' There are a number of musical similarities (a coloratura revenge
aria, a strophic patter-song, even a precurser to Papageno's five-note
panpipe scale) and even stronger atmospheric correspondences, like an
alternation between popular vaudeville entertainment and a reach for the
solemn and the sublime. Flute solos are associated with magic. If ''The
Philosopher's Stone'' anticipates Mozart, it also reflects his earlier
operas and the world they came out of. The writing for the villain, for
example, is a little like Osmin's music in ''The Abduction from the
Seraglio''; a male-chauvinist pig attitude toward women parallels ''Cosi
fan tutte,'' although in that opera, Mozart grants the women an inner life
that the women in this work can't claim. 

For Boston Baroque's recording sessions for Telarc next week, Pearlman will
use the original dialogue, in German. For Jordan Hall, he chose to keep the
audience informed by a bright but overlong English narration by Robert
Scanlan that was delivered with a character and spirit by Alvin Epstein and
the sophisticated Carmen De Lavallade that was matched among the singers
only by Sharon Baker - an artist one wanted to hear in all three principal
female roles. The two very good tenors, Paul Austin Kelly and Kurt Streit,
were sorely challenged by the opera's only virtuoso writing; most of the
others - Chris Pedro Trakas, Kevin Deas, Jane Giering-De Haan, and the
sonorous bass Alan Ewing - offered competent but undercharacterized
singing; Judith Lovat sounded miscast and vocally out of sorts as the
heroine Nadine. Pearlman, his energy level up, presided over a chipper
performance, and the orchestra played well, with classy solos by flutist
Christopher Krueger, oboist Marc Schachman, bassonist Andrew Schwartz,
tympanist John Grimes and Jean Rife, horn. 
The best numbers include a tenor aria with horn obbligato and a solemn
scene of the forging of a sword; Franz Xaver Gerl and Benedikt Schack seem
the most accomplished of the other composers. But while Mozart is full of
musical surprises, this opera is not; predictability is not a musical
virtue. ''The Philosopher's Stone'' probably can't really make its rightful
impression in a concert performance - this music was intended to provide
the framework for a stage entertainment and for displaying the popular
personalities of the original cast. In a full production, there might still
be be some magic in ''The Philosopher's Stone.'' 

 Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company. 

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