Magical Mozart 

Springs festival features forthright Flute

As easily as Prince Tamino calls out the animals of the forest with his magic flute, director Donald Jenkins and the Colorado Opera Festival have gathered the most talented collection of professionals west of the Olympic Training Center to bring top quality opera to Colorado Springs.

Avoiding the operatic pothole of letting the show get lost in grand scale production elements, Jenkins keeps the focus of The Magic Flute on the music -- and the gifted performers interpreting the music. The 39-piece orchestra fills the Pike Peak Center with Mozart's score, tempting you to close your eyes and let the music alone create the fantastic backdrop of crags and groves surrounding the fairy tale world of The Queen of the Night and the Temple of the Sun.

The story tells of the Prince Tamino's efforts to rescue and win the love of Pamina, the queen's daughter. Aided by the comical Bird Catcher, Papageno, Tamino undergoes a series of trials leading to his initiation and transformation. Meanwhile, good triumphs over evil as surely as light (with the aid of lighting cues and costume hues) overcomes darkness.

The singers are consistently first rate, and the Queen of the Night's second act soprano charge to her daughter is one of the musical highlights of the production, a rousing showstopper from a beautifully wicked character. And although most of the cast share the endemic difficulty of opera singers when it comes to embracing the responsibility of acting while singing, James Scott Sikon stands out for his comical portrayal of Papageno. The role lends itself to flamboyant stage antics, and Sikon does not disappoint, consistently reminding audiences that they are justified in letting loose with laughter.

Relatively spare sets make the production feel dangerously close to a concert performance. The Pikes Peak Center has a big stage to fill, and designers James Sale and Jesse Guess have chosen to fill the space with a lot of hot air. Upstage where a set might normally sit, Sale and Guess float a half dozen or so large weather balloons. With each set change, balloons come and go, changing their number and elevation to indicate a different locale. One or two other set pieces float in and out throughout the evening, but for the most part, the balloons create the world as we know it.

What we're left with is an operatic extravaganza without the extravagance. With music by Mozart, it's easy to feel like your sleeves are filled with trump cards, but Jenkins takes a risk in bucking tradition. The saving grace from a production standpoint is Gypsy Ames' costume design. The costumes are often clues into character, the sparkling glitter of the Three Ladies in Waiting foretelling their flashy magic, the feather-fangled plumage of Papageno establishing his comic proportions, and the whisper-light costumes of the Three Spirits reflecting their airy presence and underscoring their airy voices.

The coup de costumes comes near the end of the first act, when Tamino's flute is finally given a chance to work its magic. Tamino's gleeful flute playing after learning that Pamina is still alive entices the animals of the grove to come out and listen to his tune. When the porcupine ambles out on stage, it is hard for the imagination to understand the costumed marvel, nearly convincing us it is some mechanical creation, or a marvelously computerized animation. And when the porcupine is joined by a complexly-clad bat, turtle, frog, and raccoon, the scene is transformed into the kind of fantastical atmosphere necessary to lift this opera to its magical heights.

-- owen@csindy.com


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