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Pamina is about to meet the man of her dreams, and the timing couldn't be worse. Her hair is a mess, her dress is tattered and torn, and she's chained to a wall.

"It's like meeting someone and finding out later that you've got spinach in your teeth," said Jennifer Aylmer, the 30-something soprano who plays the princess Pamina in the Utah Opera production of "The Magic Flute," which begins Saturday.

Somehow, it will all work out. The hero Tamino will see Pamina for the beautiful soul that she is, and the audience might just see Mozart's opera in a new light, too.

"This is unlike any other 'Flute' I've seen before," said Aylmer, who is making her Utah Opera debut. Pamina's less-than-fairy-tale appearance is only the beginning.

Director Thaddeus Strassberger has given the opera a face-lift, scrapping the planned set and patching together a new design with pieces drawn from this show and that, and from his imagination. He's putting a new spin on the story, too.

"My job is to peel it back and say, which aspect of this story do we want to focus on? I want to make the relationships between people more clear. We've tried not to label anybody. I'm hoping that you're going to care about these individual characters more," said the 30-year-old Strassberger, who worked with the Utah Opera for 2004's production of "Julius Caesar."

Rather than setting it in ancient Egypt, as it's written, Strassberger has fast forwarded to the Napoleonic era, a time when the West was rushing headlong to meet the East. Egypt was "the nexus" of many cultures, he said. Christians, Muslims, and Jews mingled there, nobles alongside servants, with French, Indians, and tribesmen.

While he's not trying to contemporize the production, or draw parallels between the global situation today and 200 years ago, he says this production of "Flute" addresses timeless questions.

"We're not trying to provide simple, clear-cut answers . . . to these sorts of big questions of good and evil," he said. "It's insincere to pretend we have answers."

Strassberger hopes patrons have a good time, but also leave the production with new things to think about.

"This production is going to be edgy," said baritone Carlos Archuleta, a former heavy-metal band frontman who will play the bird catcher Papageno, a character that usually is "very slapstick."

"In this production, I'm definitely goofy, but we're taking that back a bit and trying to be more real, more human. We look at this opera as a light romp. It takes courage to step away from that and make something more relevant," said Archuleta.

While the story may have a slightly different slant, the music remains the same.

"It's fantastic," said Robert Tweten, who will conduct the orchestra again after leading the musicians last year in "Jenufa." "The Magic Flute" was one of Mozart's last two operas, premiering just weeks before his death, and was the first composed for a commercial audience, rather than the court. "It's his most varied score by far, and his most colorful."

Deciphering the 'Magic Flute'

Sarastro, the wise priest of Isis and Osiris, has captured the princess Pamina and imprisoned her in the temple in an attempt to free her from the influence of her mother, the evil Queen of the Night. The queen induces the young Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter. Joined by the bird catcher Papageno, Tamino finds Pamina and the two fall in love. Together, they yearn to become enlightened, but to be inducted into Sarastro's order, they must survive a series of life-threatening trials with the aid of the magic flute.

It is a story of good and evil, romance, the quest for enlightenment, and, strangely, the Freemasons. The fairy tale is both comic and serious, and quite often absurd.

Edgier approach

Utah Opera will present one of Mozart's final masterpieces, "The Magic Flute," on Saturday, and continuing March 13, 15 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m. The opera will be sung in German, with English supertitles projected above the stage, and with dialogue spoken in English. Performances are at Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets are $10-$70 and can be purchased by calling 801-355-2787, at the box office, or by visiting http://www.utah