The University of British Columbia Opera School's semi-staged presentation of Die Zauberflote in December shone as brightly as it would have fully staged. The Chan Centre offers splendid acoustics, excellent lighting potential and panoramic views from every seat.
Nancy Hermiston, head of the Voice and Opera Division at UBC, brought the libretto and music together with a clear story line in the opera, and the strong ensemble of singers, dressed in costumes evocative of the 18th century but not tied to it, were impressively balanced. John Arsenault (Tamino) exhibited a clear tone and displayed equal sonority in both low and high registers, as well as an air of princely command. Neema Bickersteth (Pamina) has amazing control of her vocal palette, producing a warm and sensual color appropriate to the text. Justin Welsh (Sarastro) and Shauna Martin (Queen of the Night) were the surprises of the evening, their vocal skills up to the challenge of their difficult roles. Todd Delaney (Papageno) charmed at one moment and amused at another, and the duet with a delightful Papagena (Katie May) drew laughs when their production of five children occurred quickly after their introduction. The Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra provided the accompaniment to the opera. Under the direction of Richard Epp, the pace was carefully controlled to underscore the vocal needs of the students.
A stellar cast from the UBC School of Music, under visiting Czech conductor Norbert Baxa, presented Massenet's Manon with melodic charm and grace. …