BWW Reviews: Local Baritone Enlivens KC Lyric Opera's Smart New Production of THE MAGIC FLUTE
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City, along with the Kansas City Ballet, is on a roll. Since the dazzling new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors two years ago, both companies have been presenting ever more exciting and significant works.
Before the Kauffman Center, co-productions with the likes of the San Francisco Opera seemed unthinkable, but now, the Lyric Opera has teamed with that company to present a new vision of THE MAJIC FLUTE, currently running through the end of the week.
Full of simple, bright and angular costumes and onstage projections by visual artist Jun Kaneko, the production features baritone and Kansas CitIan Daniel Belcher singing the role of Papageno. Belcher, a regular on international opera stages around the world, talked recently about the role.
"It's the second time I've been at the Kauffman-the first was NIXON IN CHINA [another San Francisco Opera co-production]. It's a fantastic cast and the production I think is really going to be something special for this public-it will be definitely unlike anything they've seen, and the cool thing is it really tests the technical abilities of the new hall and what the company can do as well. So it's exciting, it's definitely a period of growth and stretching and this production will definitely be a test of that..."
And while Belcher naturally enjoys a traditional repertoire (he's sung Papageno more than a dozen times), he talked about a special fondness for new music. "I think I premiered seven or eight roles, and then actually through 2017 I have five more world premiers coming up. And, no, it wasn't a conscious choice necessarily.
"There's a reason I love to do all these new pieces...I love working with new composers, just to go and ask them at the break, 'So why did you do this phrase like this? Is there any way we can alter this?'"
In 2010, the Belcher recording of L'AMOUR DE LOIN, a contemporary piece by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho won the Grammy award for Best Opera Recording. Belcher spoke about his work with Saariaho.
"[T]he new music community is a rather small one, and one composer leads to the next which leads to the next and I've become very close with a certain composer Saariaho, with which we won a Grammy Award a couple years ago...She wrote me a chamber piece a few years ago and hopefully we're going to somewhere in the very near future again, we're just setting on dates, so it's nice to have those relationships with living composers..."
I asked Belcher where he thinks Lyric Opera of Kansas City ranks in the big opera picture, now that it's reached a new milestone with its new performance hall. "I think it is absolutely one of the premiere regional companies. And I say that not just because of me but it's in a lot of ways what I hear from presenters, not only in this country but around the world.
"When the Kauffman Center opened and when there'd be pictures of this new opera building, I was getting emails from administrators in Europe...they're like, 'Danny, what is happening in Kansas [City]?'...No, there's definitely awareness of something rather unique happening here at time when everybody, particularly in Europe, keeps hearing...in what dire straits the arts are in the United States. Why is this company, why is this city embracing arts in a different way?...I say, one, everyone works their butts off here, and two, there's a synergy in the public that really wants to put back into the community."
But no matter where or in what sort of hall opera is presented in, Belcher feels strongly about the basics of the form: ""I still think at the end of the day you have to tell a story, and no matter what you do with design you still have to tell the story. These are real people, and I think what attracts an audience and a theatre-going public is to watch real people fleshed-out, living in an unbelievable situation that will in some what reflect to us."
For tickets and more information on the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's presentatio of THE MAGIC FLUTE, visit the company's website: www.kcopera.org.
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/KC Lyric Opera.