Review: ‘The Magic Flute’

Oct. 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

There are at least two ways to enjoy Hawaii Opera Theatre’s 2015-2016 season-opener production of “The Magic Flute.” One is to dissect it with an academic’s knowledge of the social context of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last opera — the things that were of concern to him in the final months of his life, and the messages about various issues that he may have intended the story to deliver. 

magic flute

‘THE MAGIC FLUTE’

Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
» Cost: $34-$135
» Info: (866) 448-7849, www.ticketmaster.com

Another option is to just enjoy it as a beautiful and imaginative staging of a great 18th century opera. Well-matched and impressively talented leads do a wonderful job even when the forward motion of the story slows to a glacial pace.

The premise is familiar: A protagonist is hired to help someone and then gradually discovers that there are things about the job he’s taken on that his employer didn’t tell him. Antonio Figueroa stars as Tamino, a prince on a mission, with Curt Olds as his quirky sidekick, Papageno, a professional bird catcher whose natural response to danger is quick retreat.

Talise Trevigne is an appealing heroine as Pamina, the kidnapped princess Tamino is determined to rescue. Julius Ahn is a delightfully hissable villain in the role of Monostatos, the man who is holding her in the service of his overlord but wants her for himself.

So Young Park (Queen of the Night) got the loudest applause of the evening on Friday’s opening night for her climactic aria in Act II. Park’s voice soared up to hit the high notes required in this very demanding piece of music. She nailed the emotional intensity called for as well.

Paul Whelan (Sarastro) physically dominates every scene he appears in, towering over the other members of the cast like a giant. Whelan’s size suggests that Sarastro is a god-like creature rather than a mortal, and that the mystical organization he heads has otherworldly origins.

True love rarely runs smoothly in operas. This one is no exception. Figueroa and Trevigne have several emotionally fraught scenes where Tamino and Pamina endure separation, misunderstandings and possible death.

Trevigne and Park make the big daughter-and-mother confrontation one of the most dramatic scenes in the show; how sad it is to know that mother or daughter is going to lose! Olds is immediately entertaining as the comic sidekick but plays his serious scenes with equal finesse. Ahn makes Monostatos a complete three-dimensional prisoner-of-lust; you’ll hiss Monostatos but, as Bill Clinton might put it, you’ll feel his pain.

Eclectic costuming also makes HOT’s “Flute” memorable. Tamino wears the garb of a late-Victorian or early Edwardian gentleman. Papageno sports 18th century attire, most of Sarastro’s court wear garments that suggest the early 1500s, and the Queen of the Night’s slinky attire brings to mind Theda Bara as Cleopatra in 1917. Add a few more eras to the fashion mix and it is quite the mash-up. Pamina and the Queen of the Night are linked by the color purple, Papageno and his bride-to-be by the color green.

Many Americans avoid opera because so much of it is sung in German, Italian or some other language that isn’t English. HOT’s “Flute” is performed in English, with English lyrics projected in supertitles above the stage just in case anyone has difficulty understanding English sung in traditional operatic style. That concession makes this “Flute” an excellent introduction to opera for adventurous first-timers as well as satisfying entertainment for seasoned aficionados.

“The Magic Flute,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, English translation by Jeremy Sams; conducted by Hal France; stage direction by Allison Grant; set design by John Pollard; lighting design by Peter Dean Beck; costume design by Lesley Bernstein; wig and make-up design by Sue Sittko Schaefer. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes. With Julius Ahn (Monostatos), Antonio Figueroa (Tamino), Erik D. Haines (Second Priest), Maya Hoover (Second Lady), Blythe I. Kelsey (Third Lady), Amy Mills (First Lady), Curt Olds (Papageno), So Young Park (Queen of the Night), Talise Trevigne (Pamina), Rachel Schutz (Papagena), Sophia Sansano (Third Spirit), Raphael Stark (First Spirit), Sophia Stark (Second Spirit), Buz Tennent (First Priest), Paul Whelan (Sarastro), and Leon Williams (Speaker).
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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