The Magic Flute, Version 2.0

By By Matthew Barney

By Matthew Barney

Utah Opera’s performance of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” which concluded yesterday at Capitol Theatre with a matinee, delighted audiences with amazing singers, a sumptuous ambience and the enticing themes of illumination and enlightenment.

Attendees of this year’s production were treated to some magnificent and mutable sets and props-colorful, bright, full of life, yet at times dark, dreary and serious. The main stage, a huge, circular, rocky crag, was surprisingly adaptable in its flexibility for scene and act changes.

The opera begins with Tamino, played by a veteran of the part, tenor Scott Murphree, pursued by a dragon (carried by several people underneath). This is but one instance of the wonderfully seriocomic attitude this unique production took.

Another example is the entrance of the dreadful Queen of the Night character, played by Amanda Pabyan, also a veteran of the role. Pabyan flies onstage atop a flying paper beast-literally. It might seem that this could detract from the grave topic of the opera-the struggle for enlightenment-but it remarkably does not. The paper beast is at once fantastic, which is truly appropriate for the setting, but also a practical, feasible solution to the problem of finding an actual flying beast to carry a Queen to the stage.

While on the topic, Papageno’s “birds,” mere flat pieces of wood with silly paintings on one side and color to match the set on the other, add a welcome whimsical touch to a whimsical character.

Papageno, played by Carlos Archuleta, another veteran of the role, was by far the most delightful character to watch throughout the performance. He adds true humor, great vocal performances and just enough sincerity to make his part truly shine.

Other stars of the opera include the three wise boys, sung and played by Ryan Tani, David Payne and Patrick Murnin, all soloists from the Cathedral of the Madeleine Choir School. Much appreciated by the crowd, their heavenly voices were a testament to the emotional power of a youthful male soprano.

Some of Mozart’s most famous tunes are found in this opera, among them the familiar overture “Song of the Queen of Night,” and the delightful duet between Papageno and Papagena, played by soprano Genevieve Christianson, yet another veteran of the role.

What is most fascinating about the “Magic Flute” is Mozart’s ability to make the music blend with dialogue and storytelling when necessary, while at other times allowing his forceful arias to stand on their own merit.

In the aforementioned duet between Papageno and Papagena, the piece begins with Papagena popping her head out of the stage and uttering a simple “Pa.” Somehow, with just the one note, attention is fixated on one of the most serene, calming and just plain endearing duets in opera. If anything, these few minutes of bliss make the entire opera worthwhile.

Undeniably, the most famous component of “The Magic Flute” is the incredible aria sung by the Queen of Night. This is a very difficult piece to sing, stressing a singer’s ability to hit the heights of notes that seem utterly inhuman. Thankfully, Pabyan delivers the goods, leaving audiences with a wholly satisfactory performance.

Also worth noting, Sarastro’s (played by Alfred Walker) solo was an unexpected diamond amid the gems of the opera.

Thus this year’s production of “The Magic Flute” stood out in two ways: It had some of the most breathtaking sets imaginable, marked by their two-pronged approach of combining flippancy with seriousness, and it had a strong performance of some of the greatest orchestral and opera pieces around.