Opera’s visual effects
overshadow its sound

Mozart's lively fantasy is
a delight to behold, but mismatched
voices weaken the aural side

'The Magic Flute'

Presented by the Hawaii Opera Theatre, repeats 4 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Opera is a delicate balance between the visual and the aural. And Mozart's "Magic Flute" is an even more delicate balance between the serious and the comic. In Hawaii Opera Theatre's current production, it is the visual and comic that win out.

Even the overture became visual: in a slide show beginning with Mozart and his magic flute, expanding outward to the whorl of our galaxy, and then contracting to connect the swirling maelstrom of the universe to our life on earth, and finally to the microcosm of Mozart's opera.

A spinning compass from the slide show materialized onto the stage as a large tilting platform, the sets' centerpiece, and served to usher the audience into the opening scene: not the usual mountains and snake, but a storm-tossed ship beset by a sea monster.

That shift in setting provided a local connection: The hero has been shipwrecked on a fantastical island where the opera's German dialogue is sprinkled with "aloha" and "mahalo," and where the culture reflects tidbits from cultures around the world.

It proved a useful shift, because it freed director Matthew Lata from the strictures of both reality and convention. He could -- and did -- let go and have fun. Comedy reigned: animal statues came to life, sharks chased rowboats, spirits had to swim (snorkels and all) ... even orchestra members joined in the antics (they tossed a rope on stage to help Papageno hang himself.)

As in Lata's other Mozart productions, this one is fast paced, active, and entertaining. It is also probably the most technical of his productions, with multiple screens, pulled boats, raised hot-air balloons, flying sets, and numerous props. Impressively, everything ran smoothly Friday night.

The aural side of the production ran less smoothly, uneven in quality and with mismatched voices.

Many in the cast were local singers, to the delight of the audience and to the credit of HOT. (It is in everyone's best interest for opera companies to foster and provide opportunities for local singers.)

And there were some very good performances, most notably those by Vicki Gorman (Second Lady), Lea Woods Friedman (Papagena), and the three high-school students who played the three spirits, Nathalie Sakimura, Elizabeth Hartnett, and Esther Chen.

Mismatched voices among the lead singers, as between Jacqueline Venable's Pamina and Justin Vickers' Tamino, weakened the opera's serious side, perhaps because its impact relies so heavily on the voices. And yet, the leads delivered the strongest performances.

As Queen of the Night, Jami Rogers displayed her considerable technique and agility, sailing through the Queen's fiendishly difficult arias. If one were to quibble (and one ought not), one might say her voice is too sweet and warm for such a cold-hearted role.

Leon Williams, with his vibrant baritone and strong acting (his comic timing was excellent), made a delightful Papageno, stealing the focus in virtually every scene. Vickers' young lyric tenor was idealistic and sympathetic, and Robert Swan's rich bass lent firm authority to the Orator.

Conductor William Boggs deftly provided the opera's aural foundation with an especially finely crafted overture and by responding sensitively to both stage and pit.

Ruth O. Bingham reviews the opera
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

E-mail to City Desk


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