Quick -- check your pulse!
Feel a quick 40 to 60 beats per minute?
Good. Then you're exactly the audience Mozart had in mind for his operatic masterpiece The Magic Flute.
And in Pittsburgh Opera's dynamic production, the cardiac ka-thump will beat to some of the best tunes ever written, in performances of amazing consistency.
The story is pure fantasy, of course. Mix two parts A Midsummer Night's Dream with one part Masonic lore and you get a bunch of mumbo jumbo about a prince trying to save his beloved from a temple of acolytes. But if you go to operas for the stories, there must be a Yankee Candle Company growing out of your ears.
The Opera's stage production does an excellent job of supporting the mythic and surreal elements of the libretto. Set on a stage rife with primary colors, a series of seven shifting doorways and enough shattered Grecian columns to repair the Parthenon, Danila Korogodsky's set is just right. Costumes, likewise, bring us further into the dream world with a mix of contemporary suits and ties, Romanesque flowing robes and even a multicolored patchwork quilt for our clowns and assorted harlequins.
The company's new music director, Anthony Walker, does a fine job leading the orchestra, making it almost another character in itself. Though he advocates an almost period-perfect approach to the strings (read: goodbye vibrato), his rhythms are measured and his colors sprightly. Glenn Lewis, in particular, distinguishes himself with numerous naughty celesta solos.
However, where the opera truly shines is its ensemble of vocal soloists. A performance of Flute usually lives or dies with its Papageno, the clownish bird-catcher who follows our hero on his quest. Thankfully, Daniel Teadt is a belly-laugh machine with his puckish antics. Moreover, he can sing: He has a lovely hued voice that would benefit only from a bit more projection and strength.
The strongest voice, however, must belong to the Sarastro of Gregory Reinhart. Power, beauty and poise are his in equal measure. Of all on stage, one can imagine him giving the best solo concert.
Of course, the biggest vocal pyrotechnics go to the Queen of the Night, played by understudy Audrey Luna. The Pittsburgh Opera Center student took over for an ailing Amanda Pabyan and does an outstanding job. Though her first aria became a bit shrill in its cadenza, she rallied admirably for the "rage" aria -- perhaps the most beautiful (and difficult) piece for soprano voice in all of opera. She handled all those dipping and dashing high notes with maturity and heart-melting glory. Without question, Luna is one to watch. As she matures, one can only guess what the future holds for such a talented ingénue.
Rounding out the soprano leads, Tammy Tyburczy's Pamina is thoroughly lovely. She sings with heart and a marvelous legato. If only she, like Teadt, could project a bit more -- some of her highest notes were almost lost to the ear.
Finally, Jason Karn does an admirable job as the hero, Tamino. It's hard to be the milquetoast goody-goody, but Karn makes it seem almost reasonable. His voice is nothing special, but neither is it unpleasing.
In short, if blood courses through your veins, Mozart's The Magic Flute is for you. It's the musical equivalent of a big slice of chocolate cake. So, go ahead, indulge. As a bonus, I believe that one viewing of the work fully licenses you to be a practicing Freemason. Just don't forget the secret handshake.
Pittsburgh Opera's The Magic Flute continues 8 p.m. Fri., March 30, and 2 p.m. Sun., April 1. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $16-130. 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org