Utah Opera: Mozart masterpiece is as magical as ever
By Catherine Reese Newton
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 17 2013 04:17PM
Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" is two operas in one. The first act is a zany adventure story, with mysterious creatures, a daring rescue and some of the catchiest tunes ever heard in an opera house. The second act is solemn, sometimes ponderously so, as the protagonists undergo trials to prove their mettle.
It can be tricky to balance those radically different halves. Utah Opera’s current production succeeds by playing both elements with complete sincerity. Because the cast buys so fully into the roles and situations, the audience is more likely to do the same.
A beautifully cast trio of singers play the central roles: Salt Lake-based tenor Robert Breault as Tamino, the noble prince; soprano Anya Matanovic as Pamina, the brave princess; and baritone Daniel Belcher as Papageno, the simple birdcatcher. All excelled in Saturday’s opening performance. Breault sang with well-focused lyricism and invested Tamino with an innocence that made his emotional journey all the more relatable. Matanovic combined vocal purity with a radiant stage presence that let the goodness of Pamina’s character shine through. And Belcher nearly stole the show with his light, jovial vocal delivery and excellent comic timing.
Jennie Litster, Sishel Claverie and Jessica Bowers played the Three Ladies with infectious enthusiasm, raising the energy of an already-energetic first act. Eric Stevens, Griffin Mozdy and Jonas Malinka-Thompson, all students at the Madeleine Choir School, gave first-rate performances as the Three Spirits. Another Utahn, Tyler Oliphant, made a strong impression as the Speaker and one of the Armored Men. (Andrew Penning gave a solid performance as the other Armored Man.) Doug Jones, as Monostatos, looked menacing in his tribal tattoos but also showed a flair for comedy. Amy Owens was a mischievous and high-spirited Papagena.
Audrey Luna sang perhaps the opera’s best-known tune, the Queen of the Night’s vengeance aria, to terrifying effect, popping out a series of high F’s like sonic daggers. On the other end of the sonic spectrum was Jeremy Galyan, who played Sarastro more as a calming presence than a charismatic leader.
Tim Long conducted the Utah Symphony in a colorful performance of Mozart’s rich score. "The Magic Flute" is filled with heart-catching moments that can surprise even the seasoned listener. The Three Ladies’ instructions to Tamino and Papageno, the duet in which Pamina and Papageno sing the praises of marriage, and the duet of the Armored Men were among Saturday’s most magical moments. Especially noteworthy performances came from Mercedes Smith and Jason Hardink, who played the "enchanted" flute and bells, respectively.
The current "Magic Flute" is a revival of the Thaddeus Strassberger production from 2006, to which stage director Paul Peers has added some playful touches of his own. The visual design is diverse, boldly colored and often fanciful, in keeping with the disparate elements of Mozart’s score and Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto.