Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Magic to do

January 12, 2009

Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2008

With so much Wagner coming up this season for Los Angeles Opera, the company wisely decided to start off the year with a little Mozart for warm and fuzzy contrast. This weekend saw the opening of another revival of the company's 1993 Peter Hall production of Die Zauberflöte under the baton of music director James Conlon. In the span of two weeks, the company is doing 9 performances with two different casts with an unusual number of big names and important rising talent across both groups. On Sunday I caught this week's second team, which featured Joseph Kaiser as Tamino, Erin Wall as Pamina, Morris Robinson as Sarastro, Markus Werba as Papageno, and Albina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night. (The other team includes both Matthew Polenzani and perhaps one of the most beloved Papagenos, Nathan Gunn.) And, in perhaps the most unusual bit of "luxury casting," I've seen in awhile, L.A. Opera has hired Matthias Goerne to sing the part of the speaker. Now I know that L.A. weather has to be better than Germany's as a rule in January, but how the company managed to corral one of the world's premiere Lieder vocalists into appearing for approximately 5 minutes in a role that could just as easily be cut from an opera with more than its share of big hits is beyond me. Don't get me wrong, he's fantastic but I keep feeling there is some gag to this I haven't figured out yet.

All this being said, it's remarkable how well this production comes off despite its age. It is a little worn around the edges and not all of the technical issues were resolved on Sunday, but it is still very effective, not to mention fun, colorful, and a little magical. It's not going to change anybody's mind about anything, but in the hands of a very capable cast, this is one revival that really comes alive. Conlon and the orchestra sounded good if rather large and modern for Mozart, but never dull. The cast was quite solid and, despite some ill-fitting costumes, succeeded without any major catastrophes. Joseph Kaiser is a major talent and has played some spectacular supporting roles last year both as Narraboth in Salome at the Metropolitan Opera and Yonas in Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater in Santa Fe. As a heavily made-up and brightly costumed Tamino he was noble and charming. Opposite him was Erin Wall whose bright and pretty tone worked well. Albina Shagimuratova handled the coloratura passages of the Queen of the Night with accuracy and strength without any strain or need to have the orchestra slow down, and Markus Werba's Papageno was comic and broad enough to be seen and heard throughout the hall.

So, while it may not be new or groundbreaking, Peter Hall's production still has plenty of juice left to impress an audience, and this family-friendly take on Mozart's opera will hopefully be a success for the company this year. Here's the good news, both casts appear to be quite strong, so no matter when you go, you're not likely to go wrong.


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