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After serving audiences a diet heavy on suffering and heartache this season, Utah Opera is closing with a fun, frothy dessert: Mozart's comedy "The Abduction From the Seraglio."
The production's biggest draw is Celena Shafer, the Utah-born soprano who has sung leading roles in many of the world's leading opera houses. Shafer stars as Konstanze, a Spanish noblewoman stuck in a Turkish harem, where her trying circumstances inspire her to sing some of the most virtuosic music Mozart ever devised. The apparent ease with which she executed the coloratura gymnastics of "Martern aller Arten" on opening night made her spectacular delivery of the aria all the more impressive.
Another knockout performance comes from the other end of the scale. Bass Gustav Andreassen plays the ill-tempered harem overseer Osmin, who sings some of the lowest notes in the operatic canon. Andreassen sings them with consummate richness, flexibility and expression.
Andrew Stenson portrays the young aristocrat Belmonte, who spends the opera trying to liberate his beloved Konstanze. Stenson's voice has a pleasing heft, and the sensitivity of his phrasing makes him a most appealing hero. Keep an eye on this up-and-coming tenor.
Two singers in Utah Opera's Resident Artist training program round out the singing cast. Soprano Amy Owens and tenor Tyson Miller play the servant couple, Blonde and Pedrillo, with abundant charm and solid technique. "The Abduction From the Seraglio" is a singspiel, a genre of opera in which spoken dialogue advances the plot; Utah Opera has chosen to deliver the spoken lines in English. Mozart didn't give the tenor playing Pedrillo much opportunity to show off, but Miller's comedic gifts more than compensate. He and Andreassen make one of the funniest pairs of antagonists ever seen on the local opera stage.
The company's artistic director, Christopher McBeth, has cast himself in the speaking role of Pasha Selim. Though we don't get to hear him sing, McBeth brings gravitas to the role of a powerful man grappling with the fact that the woman he loves would rather die than be with him. He also cuts an impressive figure in the fabulous glittering robe designed for him by Jacob Climer, whose delightful, candy-bright costumes underscore this opera's role as a season-closing bonbon. (Yancey Quick's whimsical wigs are the perfect topper.)
Gary Thor Wedow leads the Utah Symphony in a light, crisp and nicely nuanced outing. (In a lovely gesture, Wedow had the orchestra take a bow at the end of Saturday's performance, to hearty applause from the Capitol Theatre crowd.) The Utah Symphony Chorus gives another well-polished performance. Director Chas Rader-Shieber demonstrates a deft hand for physical comedy while bringing plenty of heart to the production. Under his direction, the cast delivers a laugh (or at least a mild chuckle) a minute, but the characters all feel so likable and relatable that the show's closing moral rings true.
Utah Opera presents Mozart's "The Abduction From the Seraglio," sung in German, with Supertitles and spoken dialogue in English.
When • Reviewed Saturday, May 10; evening performances continue May 12, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee May 18.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $18 to $95 ($5 more on performance day) at http://www.utahopera.org; $15 rush tickets available for anyone 30 and younger on performance day
Running time • Just under 3 hours, including two intermissions
In a nutshell • A charming aristocrat and his gardener set out to extricate their girlfriends from a Turkish harem, where the women have become quite popular.