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SSU’s “The Magic Flute.” Photo by David Papas

By ROBERT DIGITALE

Stirring voices, the pageantry of life-size animal puppets and the swirling melodies of Mozart engage the ear and eye at Sonoma State University’s new production of “The Magic Flute.”

The opera, which continues through Sunday, tells a tale of love, lies, trials and ultimately forgiveness. The story includes earthy comedy and deep mysticism, but it should be seen as more a vehicle for beautiful music and a call for harmony rather than a gripping drama. Thankfully for opera novices, the production displays the words overhead for this version sung in English.

In the story, there is a Queen of the Night (Sarah Phelan) and her princess daughter Pamina (Jamelia Brown), whom the queen asks a young prince to rescue from an evil king. The prince Tamino (James Leng) goes on his quest with the aid of Papageno (Malik-Charles Wade) a silly, often self-absorbed bird catcher. Along the way Tamino receives a magic flute and Papageno is given magic bells. In time the prince gets his view of reality challenged. He is told it is the queen and not king Sarastro (Gene Wright) who is truly out to do harm.

In Thursday’s opening performance, cast members Phelan and Brown exhibited voices made for opera. Phelan as the queen performed vocal fireworks as her arias soared high and low with a dazzling flurry of notes. Meanwhile, Brown as the princess sang melodies of love with power and beauty.

The leading men also get their moments, as when the prince and bird catcher sing about the ordeal of remaining silent, one of the tests they face. Wade gets most of the opera’s laughs, including while trying to determine whether a woman he encounters is an old lady or the young love of his life.

The company includes talented black-clad puppeteers, who animate a great serpent and a range of animals, among them a baby elephant, a koala bear and penguins. The production also includes a gigantic moving elephant, a striking  device on which the king makes his entrance.

We may not realize it but somewhere in our lives many of us have heard the opera’s swirling, memorable overture. The production’s 17-piece orchestra, conducted by musical director Lynne Morrow, played it with deft accomplishment and went on to offer sweet accompaniment to the voices on stage.

The stage director is Amanda McTigue. Full disclosure requires me to say I have been a past collaborator with her (our joint short story with other writers appeared a few years back in The Press Democrat) and I remain a fan.

Bravo to the company, including Kimberly Colisch, Maddie Crook, Jessica Driver, Marie Halcrow, Paul MacKinnon, Kyra Leetz, Meghan Muller, Alexis Zent, Anna Leach, Meagon Monroe, Aliya Bacal Peterson, Casey Burns, Thomas Bowers, Samantha Philp, Riley Spindler and Avery Wilson.

The production continues Thursday through Sunday at the university’s Evert Person Theatre. For information and tickets, click here.