Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” seems ready-made for scene stealers. And Spokane Opera’s cast this weekend in the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox took advantage of nearly every opportunity to show off.
Opera is supposed to be all about singing, of course. But what people kept talking about at the intermission and afterward was the art deco set.
The set, rented from Eugene Opera, had a full moon, scrims that could be lowered to produce a leafy forest or raised to reveal a multilevel platform with a motif of flames, and light rays that fit right in with The Fox’s interior.
“The Magic Flute” presents two sets of characters. The serious roles of the Queen of the Night and her rival the High Priest Sarastro, and noble lovers Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina. Then there are the comic roles of Papageno, the bird catcher, Papagena, the bride who is presented to him, and the bumbling villain Monastatos.
Baritone Morgan Smith, a tall, handsome Papageno, produced some of the evening’s most beautiful singing, cleverest acting, and most understandable diction. Late in Act II, he was joined by soprano Dawn Wolski, who proved an excellent match for Smith. She was hilarious as the old woman who turned into the beautiful Papagena.
Tenor Tim Campbell was broadly funny as the lustful villain Monastatos. Campbell’s mincing manner was highlighted by a catlike costume that gave him menacing claws, the better to snatch away his intended victim, Pamina. He delivered his patter-aria in Act II with great élan.
Another treat came from the five dancers from Ballet Spokane, led by choreographer Phaedra Jarrett. They were lithe as the dancing animals in Act I and imposingly still as the flame-like statues of the Act II scene before Tamino and Pamina’s trial by fire.
Don’t get me wrong, the serious roles were well served, too. As the Queen of the Night, soprano Alexandra Picard tossed off the notorious series of high F’s with complete assurance and at a dauntingly high speed. Her hair design, spiked with miniature lightning bolts, was as arresting as her singing.
Her servants, the Three Ladies – sung by Heather Holzapfel, Kristy Fox and Susan Salas – were similarly coifed, but the trio sometimes had problems with enunciation and pitch. Similar problems were present in the ensemble of the Three Spirits, Lucy Yandle, Victoria Perry and Julie Depner.
Soprano Heather Parker as Pamina and bass-baritone Derrick Parker as Sarastro have sung many times with Spokane Opera despite busy careers with national opera companies. It was easy to hear why Spokane Opera has them back. She has the beautiful lyric gift and he the imposing presence and sonorous tone their roles demand.
New to Spokane is tenor Noah Baetge, the recent winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s regional auditions. As Tamino, Baetge showed he can command a big, full tone and a nice delicacy in tender moments.
The opera calls for choruses with heft, and the performance I heard Friday needed more choral assurance and vigor. Mozart’s score also makes heavy orchestral demands; 15 players are sorely taxed in a space as big as The Fox. But there were very nice moments of solo strings and woodwinds.
Dean Williamson, artistic director of Opera Cleveland, led the performance with an experienced hand. The cast performed the opera in English, in a translation from its original German by Andrew Porter.