Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre brings 4 strong, varied offerings this summer

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 3:40 p.m. MDT

UTAH FESTIVAL OPERA & MUSICAL THEATRE, various productions and times, 800-262-0074 or utahfestival.org

LOGAN — As patrons of the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre summer season settle in for four evenings of premieres, they are immediately hit with a significant contrast: “The Flying Dutchman” and “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

One, the former in this case, is a serious, solo-dominated traditional work, with drab backgrounds and an abbreviated cast. “Joseph,” on the other hand, is a neon-colored, bouncy, memorable work, with numerous dance numbers and a cast of dozens and dozens.

“The Flying Dutchman”

“Dutchman” opens with an extended orchestration, a prelude that emphasizes a storm-like strength and cadence. Under the baton of Karen Keltner, the table is set, especially when combined with some excellent special effects to emphasize the stormy seas that open the production.

Sea captain Daland (portrayed and sung by Richard Zuch) and his helmsman (Benjamin Bongers) find themselves seeking a port of refuge, not far from home, during a severe storm. While asleep at the captain’s wheel, the steersman finds a ghostly vessel has also docked — attached to his own ship — and its captain is now aboard. Dressed in a dominant black theme and pale in color, this captain (Kristopher Irmiter), the audience learns, is in a sort of limbo, left searching for his salvation after an angel set the terms. Those terms include searching for a faithful wife while docking every seven years, the rest of time being spent sailing endlessly with his zombie-like crew.

Daland is enamored by the riches the Dutchman has accrued over the years and agrees to give his daughter in marriage to the pale stranger for a string of pearls and assorted riches. Zuch has a rich voice and the audience longed to hear more from him. Meanwhile, his daughter Senta (Elizabeth Beers Kataria) is enamored by the legend of the Flying Dutchman and has a personal quest to be the one to save him from his eternal limbo, giving him redemption. Her admirer, Erik, a local hunter (John Pickle), thinks otherwise and hopes she will someday return his love.

In the second act, surrounded by her friends, there is a well-produced buildup and anticipation for Senta’s first solo. Kataria does admirably in both this and other moments, while Pickle proves to be a glue that holds many scenes together. In fact, as Erik, Pickle is the most passionate of any of the leads and his Act 3 solo reinforces that fact.

“The Flying Dutchman” is sung in German and even that requires some patience. The slushing and clucking of the German tongue is not as familiar as the rolling of the Italian R’s, though all the leads were rich and strong in tone. The ensemble numbers are few and thankfully got stronger as the production went along. As played by Irmiter, the stranger in black was not quite tormented enough to push his character off the stage or to be felt by the audience, but that may be the sort of limbo he is in.

Sets are purposefully gray and utilitarian and the stage is usually almost empty, with only solos filling the void. As a whole, “Dutchman” is a solid, watchable experience, but with few individual moments that patrons will likely classify as memorable.

“Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat”

Just as it is supposed be, the UFOMT production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” is lively and non-stop. Based on the story from Genesis of Jacob and his sons, “Joseph” is also a bit of a valentine to several musical styles, numbers bouncing from western to ’60s disco to the Charleston. Each major shift in genres is generally accompanied by a big dance number and the stage is always full and a visual delight. “Joseph” is to watch as much as it is to listen to. Costumes are changed at the drop of several hats.

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