With a rising new star and a production that both entertained and did justice to high ideals, Opera Pacific opened a four-performance run of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" on Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Artscenter.
Nicole Cabell, 2005 winner of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition (which also launched the careers of baritones Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel), made her company debut as Pamina.
A soprano with aristocratic poise, warmth and lyric line, Cabell also proved an actor of sensitivity and credibility. Her despairing aria when she mistakes Tamino's silence for a change in his love for her ("Ach, ich fuhl's") was detailed and touching.
Unfortunately, not everyone reached her level.
Chad Shelton sang Tamino with a tight, narrow although vibrant tenor and acted with determined ardor. Over time, however, the more forcefully he sang, the more constricted his voice sounded.
Rod Gilfry, a longtime Southland favorite, was making his company debut as Papageno. His voice has grown weightier and lost some sheen at both ends of the range, but his comic skills, perhaps overindulged by director Michael Hampe, remained intact.
Morris Robinson sang Sarastro with all the requisite low notes and power, but his sense of legato line was deficient. Luz del Alba was pitch- and phrase-challenged in the Queen of the Night's first aria, but she recovered nicely in the second.
The Three Ladies -- Erin Wood, Priti Gandhi and Audrey Babcock -- sang well in ensemble. Tonna Miller was a bright Papagena, Scott Scully a strong Monostatos
John DeMain conducted with great sympathy for the singers, allowing them to blossom at climactic moments rather than keeping them in straitjacketed rhythms.
With its sliding panels, people and props appearing and disappearing through trap doors, and a goblet skittering magically across the floor, the production, borrowed from San Diego Opera, proved inventive and entertaining.
But the sets, designed by Hampe and Alberto Andreis, went beyond that. When the front panels depicting swirling star clusters parted during the Overture to reveal a view of the Earth slowly rotating in space, one realized that the stakes of the drama -- the battle between good and evil -- were indeed cosmic.
Hampe and Andreis underscored that idea in a number of unobtrusive ways, such as placing Platonic geometric solids in the temple's underground caverns to show the eternal foundation of Sarastro's realm.
One of their best ideas was bringing Papageno and Papagena's family to the coronation of Tamino and Pamina at the end -- although how they had time to have six children (three boys and three girls) between scenes remained a mystery. With the presence of the comic characters, the climactic celebration of truth revealed a particularly joyful inclusiveness.
Zandra Rhodes' costumes were attractive and imaginative. Marie Barrett lighted the stage most effectively. The chorus, trained by Henry Venanzi, sang strongly.
'The Magic Flute'
Where: Opera Pacific at Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Artscenter, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday
Price: $27 to $191
Contact: (800) 346-7372