Dates and Venue, January 31,February 1, 2 at 7.30; February 3 at 2 pm | Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBC
Conductor Neil Varon Director Nancy Hermiston Lighting designer Jeremy Baxter Set Designer Nancy Hermiston, Grant Windsor Stage ManagerJacqueline Wax
UBC Opera Ensemble, Vancouver Opera Orchestra
In German with English surtitles
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
An austere scene composed simply of several classical pillars and three lengths of cloth draped from the Chan’s high-ceilinged acoustic canopy made a perfect opening for the Overture to Mozart’s Die Zauberflote with its slow introduction and solemn chords. As the musical themes developed, light flooded the drapery, until finally we are in a forest and a desperate prince hurtles onto the stage, soon pursued by an enchanting, ferocious dragon. In quick succession the unconscious prince is rescued by the Three Ladies, and found by Papageno the bird catcher. All are gorgeously clothed, the Prince in a golden tunic, the ladies in richly coloured exotic dresses and Papageno in a feathery incarnation of Austrian peasant dress with bird-like scarlet legs. Not just vivid in themselves, the contrast of dramatically playful costuming and restrained set reflects the contrasts of the opera itself which is chock full of light-hearted and comic themes combined with dark plots and a serious journey towards wisdom.
Director Nancy Hermiston’s work with an enormous cast was exceptional. As usual, she has selected 2 casts to give opportunity for as many students as possible, and she has found inventive things for the chorus to do when not singing. They appear as Bird Ladies gambolling around Papageno, Monostatos' henchmen, and with the children, whom she has also added. The children are enchanting as the animals entranced by Tamino’s magic flute and as the offspring of Papageno and Papagena.
But it is the principals who stand out. Ian McCloy’s Tamino grew from frightened young man to resolute initiate and Sodam Lee, a vulnerable and confused Pamina, blossomed into a bravely loving young woman. Both sang beautifully, colouring and shaping their lines with technical skill.
Brian DeLong’s Papageno was a delight. He bounded through the music as captivatingly as he leapt about the stage, always in the moment whether in sorrow or delight. He clearly met his match in Papagena (Thera Barclay), full of character and spot on in timing and delivery..
Monostatos (Kurt Haunsperger) is classic stage villain, wicked but comical. Haunsperger delivered in full without overplaying the comical and with vocal richness. (Haunsperger also wrote the excellent surtitles). Matthew McClellan(Speaker) in contrast was the epitome of kindness and seriousness. The three Spirits (TessaWaddell, Kate Fraser, Carleigh Ross) and the three Ladies (D'Arcy Blunston, Jillian Clow, Yeeun Lee) revelled in their roles. The Spirits, dressed in elegant court uniform, were unfailingly warm and engaged with the other characters while the three Ladies thoroughly enjoyed being self-centred and flirtatious. Clear, brittle singing by the Ladies, generous, more subtly ornamented lines by the Spirits created a fine balance. Sarastro (John Constable) has the opera’s lowest of low notes and the Queen of the Night (Elizabeth Harris) the stratospherically highest. On opening night Constable had a few wobbles, but he hit the bass notes with aplomb. Elizabeth Harris’s sparkling coloratura was flawless, fast and precise in the leaps and ringing with clarity.
While there are short parts, there are no minor characters. Each is an important part of the story and Mozart has written distinctive music for each, including the two Armed Guards and the two Priests. Strong voices from Ian Cleary and Matthew Kim were nicely paired as were Jackson Allen and Hossein Abrishamkar.
A very strong chorus brought dignity and weight to the ceremonial scenes and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra under the clearly popular conductor Neil Varon, steadily encouraged and supported the cast.
Special mention to the collaboration of Lighting Designer Jeremy Baxter and set designers Nancy Hermistor and Grant Windsor for the simple, imaginative set.
© 2019 Elizabeth Paterson