Logan • Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre is celebrating the bicentennial of two titans of opera by presenting one of Richard Wagner's early works and a mature piece from Giuseppe Verdi's canon. This is the first time UFOMT has presented a Wagner work. And while many are loath to admit similarities between the two composers, festival audiences will undoubtedly see resemblances.
"The Flying Dutchman" • The legend of a sailor cursed to spend eternity sailing the seas has become part of popular culture with the film "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants." UFOMT's "Dutchman," sung in German with English titles, provides another look at the tale.
In this version, the spectral sailor sung by Utah favorite Kristopher Irmiter is allowed to come ashore once every seven years to search for a woman who will remain faithful and enable his salvation.
Irmiter brought a sense of vulnerability to the cursed Dutchman, whose quest had previously met with disappointment. His focused baritone allowed him to resonate above the orchestra in the acoustically superb Ellen Eccles Theatre.
Senta, the object of his search, was sung with technical brilliance and breathtaking control by soprano Elizabeth Beers Kataria. Equally adept at capturing an engaging dramatic arc, Kataria played the hopeless romantic with an obsession for the Dutchman's legend.
Senta's former boyfriend Erik, sung superbly by John Pickle, hears that a stranger has set his sights on her and jealously tries to reconcile. Pickle's heldentenor voice rang brilliantly as his fury with Senta escalated, maintaining keen focus throughout his vocal high-wire act.
Daland, sung by bass Richard Zuch, played Senta's seafaring father who couldn't resist an offer of treasure for his daughter's hand. Zuch projected with delightful ebullience and warmth. When he brought the Dutchman home to meet Senta, the couple's ensuing duet was operatic gold as they warily sized each other up.
Tenor Benjamin Bongers, as the Steersman, displayed soaring heft but lost focus during soft passages, and Vanessa Schukis' mezzo projected imposing strength.
Stage director and set designer Jack Shouse contributed clarity and cannily resolved staging issues that have snared others. For example, the Dutchman appeared in a nobleman's clothes not ashen-faced and ragged as he is often portrayed making it easier to accept Senta's infatuation with him.
The actors playing his ghostly crew didn't clean up as well. Sporting pointy-nose masks and fright wigs, they had the appearance of gnomes.
Shouse's traditional set of an early 19th-century seaport conveyed appropriate ambience and accommodated unfettered movement on the theater's narrow stage. Colorful costumes by Misti Bradford and eerie lighting by Christopher Wood completed the visual effect.
UFOMT's robust chorus was the frosting on this delectable offering. Sometimes overpowering but always clear and precise, the men's voices during their first-act chorus rang with viral rowdiness, while the women's second-act "Spinning Chorus" effused light-hearted charm.
A well-honed orchestra, conducted by Karen Keltner, played with compelling energy and created a blended and nicely balanced sound.
From the opening strains of the storm-tossed overture to the gripping finale, this "Dutchman" swelled with dramatic and musical intensity.
"Otello" • Giuseppe Verdi's love of Shakespeare inspired three operas: "Macbeth," "Falstaff" and his penultimate work, "Otello." He found a compatible librettist for "Otello" in fellow composer Arrigo Boito.
Ian DeNolfo, an experienced tenor with credits from New York's Metropolitan Opera, was originally supposed to sing the Moor of Venice. But illness thrust Curtis Bannister, DeNolfo's cover, into the title role. The 28-year-old tenor's initial "deer in the headlights" moment transformed into a riveting portrayal with dramatic inflection and compelling energy. His youth lent credibility to the depiction of a military leader who was easily deluded by a corrupt and devious subordinate. Vocally, Bannister thrived in the mid and low range, but unfortunately, a thrilling vocal ping in the top register eluded him.
Baritone Jason Stearns sang Iago with a voice dripping in malevolence. His burnished, resonant tones leapt from the score, including some thrilling top notes that punctuated his vile intent. Singing the second-act "Credo," Stearns revealed his depraved nature in explicit detail.
Dramatic soprano Carla Thelen Hanson, who sang the title role last year in UFOMT's "Tosca," was Otello's wife, Desdemona. Hanson's vocal range, exquisite control and emotional depth culminated in "Willow Song"; the sublime "Ave Maria" that followed was a masterpiece of tenderness and vulnerability. She also showed indomitable strength, defying Otello's brutal efforts to make her confess a nonexistent sin in the final duet.
A talented supporting cast featured tenor Michael Jones in a lyric but underpowered performance as Cassio; mezzo Amanda Tarver in a brief but vocally stunning appearance as Emilia; bass Kevin Nakatani, who brought a welcome gravitas to the role of Lodovico; tenor Benjamin Bongers, who gave a pleasing, clarion tone as Roderigo; and baritone Jeremiah Johnson as a stately Montano.
This spur-of-the moment performance by Bannister was no doubt stressful for the cast, but Daniel Helfgot's insightful stage direction and enabling influence surely stabilized a tenuous situation. The only disconnect was the overly dark opening scene, sung through a scrim that muted the chorus as they frantically described Otello's storm-tossed approach to the harbor.
Conductor Barbara Day Turner inspired singers and instrumentalists with a nuanced baton and interpretative vision. The well-prepared orchestra and precise chorus, including a handful of delightful children, thrived under her direction.
Stunning costumes by Wes Jenkins and lighting design from Christopher Wood brought life to Peter Crompton's beautifully detailed sets, featuring a Roman arch motif.
What could have been a theatrical disaster turned into a dramatic triumph in this professional and elegant production. Future performances with the return of DeNolfo in the title role should be a must-see.
'The Flying Dutchman' and 'Otello'
P Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre presents two operas; one is an engrossing account of a ghost ship captain's search for salvation, while the other is a riveting musical rendition about Shakespeare's Moor of Venice.
When • Reviewed Wednesday, July 10, and Friday, July 12, respectively. The productions run in rotating repertory, Tuesday-Saturday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., through Aug. 10.
Where • Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan
Tickets • $12-$62 with discounts for students and those purchasing all four shows; ufoc.org, arttix.org , 435-750-0300 or 800-262-0074 ext 3. Tickets also available at the Dansante Building at 59 S. 100 West, Logan, and at the Ellen Eccles Theatre before show time.
Running time • "Flying Dutchman," just under 3 hours with two 15-minute intermissions; "Otello" 3 hours, 10 minutes with two 15-minute intermissions.