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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 16, 2003

Brilliant finale redeems 'Magic Flute'

By Gregory Shepherd
Advertiser Classical Music Critic

Though at times wildly uneven in quality, the Hawai'i Opera Theatre production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" nevertheless succeeds, thanks to a brilliant final half-hour that makes one wonder why the whole thing couldn't have been as good.

Justin Vickers as Tamino, a young prince, is surrounded by the Trio of Ladies who saved him from a dragon in the opening act of "The Magic Flute." Conductor William Boggs led the orchestra with real sensitivity to voices, but some of them still came through too weak.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Friday night's performance was saved through the efforts of a few key players, as well as through stage direction that finally jelled after many clunky moments earlier in the show.

Set in a fantastical locale inhabited by monsters and beings with superhuman powers, the opera is a musical allegory on the timely theme of the triumph of good over evil. Tamino, a young prince, must make himself worthy of the love of Pamina, daughter of the malevolent Queen of the Night. To this end, he endures a series of trials designed to test his strength of character. His counterpart in all this is the bird catcher, Papageno, symbol of all that is weak and self-indulgent in human nature.

Justin Vickers brings a nice sense of youthful ardor to the part of Tamino, but he is far from the strongest tenor in the world. He also had a tendency to go sharp on his high notes on Friday.

Jacqueline Venable's Pamina, while vocally more assured, was not a very convincing damsel in distress.

Jami Rogers as the Queen of the Night did the best vocal work of the evening on her stratospheric aria in Act 2, but the Act 1 blocking (far upstage and literally high in the air) was such that her other aria was lost in the rafters.

Leon Williams (Papageno) stole the show Friday with a fine baritone voice and comic timing that lent crispness and sparkle to a production sorely in need of it. His lazy and cowardly bird catcher bounds nimbly about stage (even off it, at one point), interacting not only with the other characters but with the audience and orchestra as well.

'The Magic Flute'

• 4 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

• Blaisdell Concert Hall

• $27-$95

• 596-7858

Lea Woods Friedman, his counterpart as Papagena, did more with that little role than did several other performers in much larger ones.

John Mount's Sarastro, blind in this production, lent gravitas to the temple scenes, while Laurence Paxton's Monostatos capered mercurially in a quite physical interpretation of the role. Mary Chestnut Hicks, Vicki Gorman and Lorna Mount did fine work as the Trio of Ladies, and Les Ceballos and Patrick McNichols brought real excellence to their smaller role as the Two Priests.

Nathalie Sakimura, Elizabeth Hartnett and Esther Chen were audience favorites as the Three Spirits. Though only in high school, the girls lighted up the stage whenever they were on it.

Conductor William Boggs led the Honolulu Symphony with real sensitivity to the singers, although some of the voices were so weak that there was only so much he could do.

Director Matthew Lata's staging was almost brilliant at times, but maddeningly inept at others (for example, the business of having the Queen of the Night singing in a stage location where she couldn't be adequately heard).

The rat-a-tat timing necessary for effective comic dialogue was nowhere in evidence except in Papageno's case, but that came largely as a result of Leon Williams' own instincts.

Also, it would be nice if supertitle translations of punch lines didn't come before the speaker delivers them.

Still, Lata's brilliant touches dazzled the eye with their unexpected quality and inventiveness.

R. Keith Brumley's set design and Peter Dean Beck's lighting worked well in advancing the action.

The HOT Chorus did good stage work, but their important offstage vocal passage in the second act was inaudible.

Gregory Shepherd has been The Advertiser's classical music critic since 1987.