By Louise Phillips
Vancouver Opera’s West Coast reimagining of the 222-year-old Mozart classic is a brave fusing of First Nations and Western European traditions. It’s an enormous undertaking that involved a committee of elders who offered their expertise to the company producers and designers. The result is a visual tour de force.
The 70 costumes mix contemporary sensibility and time-steeped ceremony from 10 BC nations — in magnificent headdresses, cloaks, button blankets, masks and even leotards. Dance styles move gracefully from ancient narrative to modern conceptual. Subtle video creates a chilly, roiling ocean; rocks glisten with sea-spray; a forest stretches into the distance.
Evocative and theatrical, the production adapts Mozart’s tale of spiritual transformation to the magic realism of West Coast native mythology. The essential heart of the 2007 production remains, but the remount moves from hypnotic to ponderous in the second half; the libretto creaky, the comedy stagey, the spoken dialogue lacking conviction.
The principal singers are peppy enough all through. Joshua Hopkins is a chirpy Papageno, the bird catcher garbed here as a Steller’s jay. His lively comic acting and easy baritone contrast with the earnest quests of hero Tamino (warm-toned tenor John Tessier) and Pamina, the girl of his dreams, sung with lovely phrasing by soprano Simone Osborne. Costumed as an exotic moth, soprano Teiya Kasahara’s Queen of the Night was powerful but reedy in her top notes on opening night. Bass Philip Ens as Sarastro projected suitable gravitas, but often seemed stuck in slo-mo.
Worth a look and a listen, but at well over three hours, this Mozart could use more magic and less realism.
Remaining performances Mar. 12, 14, 16, 17. Tickets 604-683-0222.