Opera fuels Jason Scott Lee's stage return


POSTED: Friday, February 13, 2009

When the curtain rises on the stage of the Blaisdell Concert Hall Friday night, it will also be rising on the opera debut of Jason Scott Lee.





        On Stage: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall


Tickets: $29 to $120


Call: 596-7858


He'll be playing the role of the Pasha in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of Mozart's “;Abduction from the Seraglio.”;

It's a light opera, with lots of room for humor. And it's in the singspiel genre, meaning there's straight dialogue interspersed with song.

Thus, Lee's off the hook from stretching out his lyrical pipes.

And, it's in English—an added bonus.

“;If it was in German, I probably wouldn't have taken the role,”; he says with a laugh during an interview at the Hawaii State Art Museum, where he was making an appearance in connection with the upcoming show.

He's dressed casually, in a T-shirt and shorts. On his head, a knit cap in the familiar red, green and yellow motif.

Lee is soft-spoken and low-key. Not quite what you'd expect from a guy who's going to be running a harem in a week.

WHILE THIS IS Lee's first opera role, the stage is familiar territory for the film star.

“;I started off in stage when I was 19 years old,”; he says. That was back in Los Angeles.

Lee played the King in “;The King and I”; in a London production in 2000 and was tapped for the role when HOT staged the production a few years back, but he wasn't able to make it at the time.

Now he's back on stage.

“;The stage, in a way, is a lot more gratifying because of that instantaneous response from the audience,”; Lee says. “;Film has a sense of longevity in that it's something that people can watch over and over.”;

Lee read the script and found the character an interesting one.

“;I think he's rather hard-nosed,”; he says. “;And you kind of need to be in that position, being lord of so many people.

“;I think the thing that drew me into playing the part is his sense of justice. With any script, it's you telling the story. And with this, it's not a tragedy. It has a rather uplifting moral message in the end. Which is very rare in these kinds of stylized operas.

“;And I didn't realize how funny it was.”;

See? Opera's not that stuffy—not this one anyway.

SOON ENOUGH, director Henry Akina sits down and joins the conversation. He ponders over what it's like to work with Jason Scott Lee.

There seemed to be a little mystery as to what they would all be getting into.

“;Actually, we didn't know,”; Akina says, as they both break into laughter.

“;Every actor who takes on this role has to find some kind of relationship with the singers. And the singers have really enjoyed working with him.”;

Lee, in turn, found it helpful to work with the singers.

“;Like any actor, you have an inner monologue going and that keeps your emotional presence with what's going on,”; he says. “;And I think the key is to just listen. Sit there and listen and take in what words you're saying.

“;With the opera singers, it can be so deep because of where they're singing from. You can take it many different emotional ways in being a reflector of what they're doing.”;

Of course, despite the opera's lightheartedness, there are deeper things going on here as well.

Not to mention bizarre love triangles.

“;I thought the emotional theme that was most important was to take the tension in the triangle between the tenor Belmonte, Konstanze and the Pasha very seriously,”; says Akina. “;But keep it moving and fun and entertaining. Also to keep a sense of what a Seraglio is.”;

Uh oh, time to get heavy.

“;It's really very much like a women's prison,”; he explains. “;They're all there for the enjoyment of this one powerful male. They were commanded to do all kinds of things. From normal wifely duties, to sexual things, to God knows what.”;

AKINA DELIVERED THE script to Lee in November, and Lee's been working on it since. With the production days away, Lee and the rest of the cast are in full swing.

“;You find more and more things as you get more intense in getting closer to the performance dates. So that's kind of where we are. It's crunch time,”; Lee says.

“;We try to make everything just snap, crackle and pop. You know, make it tight.”;