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Opera review: Cast No. 2 of L.A. Opera's "Magic Flute"

January 12, 2009 |  4:00 pm

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Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 film of  “The Magic Flute” whisks the setting away from Mozart’s never-never land into the trenches of World War I.  You won’t see any of that at Los Angeles Opera this month (thank goodness, some irascible Mozarteans will say), for Gerald Scarfe’s fanciful, cartoonish yet faithful-to-the-spirit designs still hold sway in this production’s fourth time around at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

But you can catch two of the participants from the film here: its conductor, James Conlon, and its Prince Tamino, the fast-rising Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser.

The 6-foot-4 Kaiser, who was included in the production’s second cast Sunday afternoon, is being promoted as one of the latest operatic hunks, although it was difficult to get a read on that quality from his pale makeup job (his presence emerges more powerfully in the film).  But there is no doubt about his voice -- a boyish, attractive lyric tenor registering strongly and evenly across the board.

Soprano Erin Wall –- who sang impressively in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in San Francisco last November –- was in full bloom as his Pamina, luminous and delectable in her Act 2 aria, her character growing more passionate and anguished, as she should.  Together, Kaiser and Wall were a pleasure to hear in their Act 2 duets.

Morris Robinson as Sarastro, the high priest, had that rare and desirable quality, a genuine deep bass timbre.  With a little more legato and weight in the two Act 2 arias, a great Sarastro may emerge, but he’s most of the way there already.

Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova was entrusted with the Queen of  the Night’s treacherous, high-F-spiked, show-stealing arias, and she cleared the bar almost effortlessly on both of them, with a jolt of vengeful spite in the second.

Baritone Markus Werba hopped around like an insouciant bird in his feathered Papageno get-up, chopping up the vocal line at times.  But he could also sing smoothly when teamed with Wall’s Pamina, and he and Amanda Squitieri’s Papagena made a giddy, charming pair near the end of Act 2.

All five of the leads in the second cast, by the way, were making their company debuts.

For his part, Conlon led a mostly brisk, buoyant, often intimate account of the score with a chamber-sized ensemble in the pit.  Aside from some repeated miscues with the projected backgrounds that provoked laughter from the audience in the wrong spots (like the Queen of the Night’s Act 2 aria), all went generally well in Mozartland.

"The Magic Flute," Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 and 17; 2 p.m. Jan. 18; 1 p.m. Jan. 21; 7:30 p.m. Jan 22 and 24; 2 p.m. Jan. 25. $20-$238. (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Joseph Kaiser at Tamino, Erin Wall as Pamina and Morris Robinson as Sarastro. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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