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Magic Flute


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Opera season opens with Mozart’s ‘Flute’
Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2003 11:00 pm

It’s a Mozart season for Rimrock Opera Company of Billings. The second regular season for the opera company opens at 8 p.m. Friday, March 28, with first of two performances of “The Magic Flute.” The second performance is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, March 30.

The season picks up again Friday, Oct. 24, with the first of two performances of Don Giovanni conducted by Barbara Day Turner and directed by Daniel Helfgot. The second performance is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26.

Season tickets are on sale now at the Alberta Bair Theater Box Office or by calling 406-256-6052. A season ticket reserves the same seat for both shows. Also, former season ticket holders can reserve the seats held during the company’s first season last year. The price on the season ticket with a reserved seat is $50, $35, $20 and $10 per show.

Individual tickets are also on sale and priced at $55, $40, $25 and $15 per show.

Mozart’s unique comedy, fantasy and imagination star in “The Magic Flute.” Billings’ own Cassandra Norville stars as Pamina, her husband, Kiel Klaphake, plays Tamino, and Lisa Lombardy, also of Billings, sings the role of the evil Queen of the Night.

The conductor for the two performances is Robert Wood of San Francisco. Rimrock Opera artistic director Douglas Nagel directs the show.
Both productions feature Montana and Billings talent. Don Giovanni features Margarett Hanegraaf, David Cody, Anne Basinski, Lesley Jorden, Wyoming’s Jan Michael Kliewer and Ethan Herschenfeld.

Opera features ‘Mozart in Montana’
Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2003 11:00 pm

It’s a “Mozart Season” for the Rimrock Opera Company of Billings. The second regular season for the opera company opens Friday, March 28, at 8 p.m. with the first of two performances of “The Magic Flute.”

The second performance is set for Sunday, March 30, at 2 p.m.

The season picks up again Friday, Oct. 24, with the first of two performances of “Don Giovanni,” conducted by Barbara Day Turner and directed by Daniel Helfgot. The second performance is set for Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m.

Season tickets are on sale now at the Alberta Bair Theater box office or by calling (406) 256-6052. A season ticket reserves the same seat for both performances. Season ticket holders can reserve the seats held during the company’s 2002 season. The price on a season ticket with a reserved seat is $50, $35, $20 and $10 per show. Individual tickets are priced at $55, $40, $25 and $15.

Mozart’s unique comedy, fantasy and imagination are the stars of “Flute.” Billings’ Cassandra Norville stars as Pamina, her husband Kiel Klaphake plays Tamino and Lisa Lombardy, also of Billings, sings the role of Queen of the Night. The conductor for the two performances is Robert Wood of San Francisco, with direction by Rimrock Opera artistic director Douglas Nagel.
“Don Giovanni,” Mozart’s tale of a most licentious young libertine of 17th century fiction, features Metropolitan Opera bass Craig Hart as the Don and Nagel as his sidekick Leporello.

Both productions feature Montana and Billings talent. Among those joining the company of “Flute” are Paul Houghtaling, Shawn Rasch, Nancy Downing, Angela Nelson, Ed Harris, Cody Maki, Leslie Mauldin, Melissa Hamilton, Bret Weston, David Hill and Kevin Schweigert.

“Don Giovanni” features Wyoming’s Jan Michael Kliewer and Karen Cliff, Margarett Hanegraaf Lesley Jorden, Christopher Bengochea and Ethan Herschenfeld.

‘Flute’ director has Billings roots
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003 11:00 pm

Baritone and impresario Douglas Nagel is a networker.

He remembers people, voices heard, connections, relationships.
He does favors and calls in musical markers.

And he loves circles showing the continuity of life, music and his favorite art form, opera.

Nagel, artistic director of Rimrock Opera Co., is part of a circle himself. In 1978, he played the role of Papageno in the Billings Symphony Orchestra’s production of Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute.”

Next weekend, Nagel directs the opera at the Alberta Bair Theater.
“Look at all that hair,” he giggles, chuckling at the publicity photo in a vintage Enjoy magazine. Longtime BSO conductor George Perkins collaborated with Hall Diteman in the long-ago production. It launched a lifetime love of opera for Nagel. After a stint at Rocky Mountain College and degrees from University of Wyoming and San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he taught at California State University and Southern Oregon University, returning to his first love, the stage, completing training with Opera San Jose.

“I sang 20 leading baritone roles,” he says, “and I directed ‘Die Fledermaus,’ ‘The Tales of Hoffmann,’ ‘Gigi,’ ‘Pajama Game,’ and ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.”
He also pursued a mission: taking opera to children, adapting full-length operas to mini-versions, “pint sized but with big sound for touring.”
ROC’s recent “The Cell Phone” reached 14,000 area children in 40 performances and schools, and Nagel proudly took a shortened version of “The Magic Flute” on tour, reaching more than 10,000 children.

Nagel has always loved the tuneful Mozart opera. “It makes you feel good,” he says of the music. “We’re doing well with the German and have I got the voices.”

While touring Europe and singing around the country, Nagel met and befriended many top voices and talents — conductors, designers and technicians, all opera lovers. Some of those colleagues are in Billings, rehearsing for the upcoming ROC production.

Nagal is thrilled to have Robert Wood of Santa Fe Opera as his conductor. He made his San Francisco Opera debut as pianist for “Lucia de Lammermoor” and has credits ranging from “Othello” to “Hansel and Gretel” to “The Merry Widow” and “Faust.”

The vocalists have mighty backgrounds, too, and are an agreeable mix of top Billings talent and gifted imports.

As the eye-catching Queen of the Night, who has one of the opera’s most memorable and challenging tunes, Lisa Lombardy makes her ROC singing debut.

“Technically, it isn’t her first ROC performance, though,” says Nagel, who tagged Lombardy to play violin in earlier ROC productions. She is remembered as Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance,” and has sung major roles in “Carousel,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “The Mikado” and “HMS Pinafore.”

Another Billings native, soprano Cassandra Norville, will play Pamina, making her debut with ROC after many major roles. She lives in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband, tenor Kiel Klaphake, who sings the role of Tamino and is a Missoula native. The two have performed in Europe and New York and love light opera and musical theater. Klaphake has sung many of the plum male leads: Danny in “Grease,” Tony in “West Side Story,” Conrad in “Bye, Bye Birdie” and Bill in “Kiss Me Kate.”

Bass David Hill tackles the role of Sarastro, bringing the experience of stints in Los Angeles Opera, Roger Wagner Chorale and Costa Mesa Opera. A union studio singer of film and TV soundtracks, he also sings pop and jazz in Los Angeles and has worked with Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Shaw and Andre Previn.

Bass-baritone Paul Houghtaling as Papageno has toured Europe and played Carnegie Hall in Mozart’s “Requiem.” A favorite with Billings’ audiences, soprano Leslie Mauldin stepped in at the last minute last season to sing Micaela in “Carmen.” She won raves and will appear as First Lady next weekend.

Soprano Angela Nelson will be on hand as Papagena. Another Billings native, she has sung in Italy and in Intermountain Opera productions.

Second Lady Melissa Hamilton has also done major romantic leads in “Carousel,” “The King and I” and “Camelot” and played Musetta and Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly.” She lives in Boise now, where Nagel also works and cultivates his ROC stable.

Mezzo-soprano Nancy Downing’s Third Lady role marks her return to ROC. She sang as a geisha in “Madama Butterfly” and teaches at Rocky Mountain College.

Another Montana connection is chorus master Ed Harris, who has worked in every corner of musical production, from performing to arranging, scoring and conducting.

“He’s just fabulous,” says Nagel. “He has a wonderful rapport. He works hard and everyone else does.”

Other ROC regulars are assistant director Dorinda Doolittle of Medford, Ore., stage manager Bernie Rose and many other stalwarts.

Billings native to ‘show her stuff’ in opera
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2003 11:00 pm

Opera is all in the family for a married couple with Montana roots.
They’re finding themselves paired on and off the stage, thanks to scoring leading roles in Rimrock Opera Company’s upcoming production of “The Magic Flute.”

The two, tenor Kiel Klaphake and soprano Cassandra Norville, are native Montanans now living in the Phoenix, Ariz., area. They rarely have the opportunity to sing together.

“So we jumped at this,” Klaphake says. “Career-wise, it’s a wonderful opportunity. And, for Cassandra, it’s a chance to show her stuff for her hometown, so we’ve been very excited about that.”

In the two performances Friday and Sunday at the Alberta Bair Theater, the two will sing the roles of love interests, Tamino and Pamina.

Show-biz kids from way back and married for eight years, the two met at University of Montana, where both were students. Norville enrolled at UM after being among the first to graduate from Skyview High School 1988. She remembers her “High Voltage” dancing days and has fond memories of cheerleading and singing at Skyview.

She’s 32, and Klaphake, a native of Missoula, is 31.

The two have decided to settle down for a while. Their ambitious plans include a major dinner theater project in Peoria, Ariz., where they have secured four acres near two major arteries to build. Klaphake will act as general manager and producer for Arizona Broadway Theater, and Norville will be artistic producer, managing auditions, casting and the selection of directors.

“She will still be career-minded,” says Klaphake, who has sung many of the great roles of musical theater, from “West Side Story” to “I Do! I Do!” and “Grease.”

Both are also well-grounded in the operatic world, from “Don Paquale” and “La Boheme” to “Carmen” and “Die Fledermaus.” Between stints with Central City Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Ohio Light Opera and Operafest of New Hampshire, the couple has also played European concert halls, “but usually not together,” Klaphake says.

“We kind of take turns when opportunities arise, or we sit down, evaluate and see who can go where and if we might be able to travel together,” he says.

For both, Norville says, “It’s wonderful being married to someone who completely understands the performing experience, the hotel rooms, the pressures.”

Klaphake says, “She knows about the challenges, the living out of a suitcase, the demanding rehearsals, the agents, casting directors, auditions. It’s a unique world, so it’s fabulous to be collaborating on a production.”
The pair is also helping fill the house for “The Magic Flute” with relatives from both ends of Montana.

“There are people here from all over the country, but many have local connections,” Norville says.

“They’ve made the newcomers feel welcome, connected. We have a true sense of community in the wonderful mix of performers.”

JOHN WARNER/Gazette staff Angela Nelson and Paul Houghtaling play Papagena and Papageno in ‘The Magic Flute,’ which will be performed by the Rimrock Opera Company. JOHN WARNER/Gazette staff From left, Nancy Downing, Melissa Hamilton and Leslie Mauldin draw their spears on the Monster (Kevin Schweigert). JOHN WARNER/Gazette staff The challenging role of Queen of the Night is being sung by Lisa Lombardy, right, here with Kiel Klaphake as Tamino.

‘The Magic Flute’ hits Rimrock Opera stage
Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003 11:00 pm
Christene Meyers

The singers look and sound sharp and passionate. The German is coming right along.

And artistic director Douglas Nagel is thrilled to be presenting Billings area audiences with what he terms “a top notch version” of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

The opera, setin an imaginary Egypt, features some of Wolf-gang’s most be-loved tunes, and a story of exaggerated and dramatic characters: the three ladies attending the Queen of the Night, saving the fainting Prince Tamino from a serpent.

Enter birdcatcher Papageno, the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, the evil Sarastro (pronounced with a “Z” sound as Zarastro), Sarastro’s Moorish slave, Monostatos, and plenty of action, good cheer, weeping,
consoling, flirtations and jokes.

Of course, courage, virtue and wisdom triumph over greed, power and cruelty.  Or it wouldn’t be opera.

Nagel is thrilled to be at the helm of an opera so dear to his heart. He played Papageno in a 1978 production, and loved prancing and parading as the feather-covered featured character.

“I have top people,” he said, “from all over the country, starting with our conductor.”

Robert Wood steps to the Rimrock Opera podium for the first time,
taking a break from the Santa Fe Opera, where he is chorus master. He is also assistant conductor and prompter of San Francisco Opera, where his credits include many of the opera war horses, “Tosca,” “The Merry Widow,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Otello” and “Hansel and Gretel.”

He has collected his cast from throughout the country, the Atlantic seaboard to Arizona, Oregon and California.

He is particularly delighted to pair husband-wife team Kiel Klaphake, tenor, and soprano Cassandra Norville, Phoenix residents.

They play opposite one another as Tamino and Pamina. She, like many on Nagel’s roster, has Billings roots, as one of the first Skyview High School graduates with a background in choir and dance.

She and her husband are building a new theater in Phoenix, “and that’s typical of the people attracted to our endeavor in Montana,” says Nagel. “They’re all ‘givers’ in the arts world, and builders and experimenters.”
Most, like Klaphake and Norville, have toured Europe and sung in the great opera houses. Many have done extensive work with musical theater as well, which Nagel says gives them life, poise and a natural ease on stage.
As Sarastro, Nagel picked David Hill, who has worked with many of many of the arrangers and conductors, from Andre Previn to Robert Shaw and Roger Wagner and Zubin Mehta.

And other familiar names include Leslie Mauldin, seen as Micaela in last season’s “Carmen,” a role she pulled off with aplomb on very short notice. She has TV and film background and has toured with the Israeli Philharmonic.
Bass-baritone Paul Houghtaling has toured Europe as Papageno with the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra.

Lisa Lombardy will sing Queen of the Night. Nurse by day, she also plays violin and has an extensive background in a variety of musical production, from opera leads to madrigals and vocal ensembles, pit orchestras and operetta. Billings audiences fondly remember her Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance.” Nagel says she is among a half-dozen singers in the country who can do the taxing role justice.

Angela Nelson is another Billings native, a veteran of choral study who sang in Venice at St. Marks Cathedral. Ed Harris, too, has Billings roots, and Shawn Rasch, Bret Weston, Cody Maki and Kevin Schweigert round out the cast.
“They’re as good as singers come,” says Dorinda Doolittle, Nagel’s “right hand man,” the company’s and production’s assistant director. She has been part of ROC from the ground up and has collaborated with Nagel since Rogue Valley Opera days in Oregon 15 years ago.

The two have gone the distance to save ROC money. Nagel drove the set in himself, through wind and snow storms. And the majority of the company are staying in private homes, opera board members and friends of opera, to save money. Nagel’s mother, Helen, a lifelong arts buff, bakes goodies to bring to rehearsals. “We keep any extra expenses bare minimum,” says Nagel. Shopping for makeup early one morning this week at a discount house, the unflappable Doolittle, “our Girl Friday and more,” Nagel says, ducked out of the house and headed to the mall with no makeup.

“I think people took me for a bag lady,” she chuckles.

No worries. She’ll be resplendent for the opening Friday.

Magic Flute
JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff Maestro Robert Wood of the San Francisco and Santa Fe operas, enjoys working with an enthusiastic group of young spirits, all Billings students. With him are, from left, Julie Gayvert, Rachel Nielson, Eric Homer, Karen Evanson and Paul Elias, the ‘Knaben’ in ‘The Magic Flute.’

Rimrock Opera director finds way for eager actors to participate in ‘Magic Flute’
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Friday, March 28, 2003 11:00 pm

An abundance of young auditioners for “The Magic Flute” presented a dilemma for director Douglas Nagel.

What to do with the young hopefuls.

The artistic director of Rimrock Opera Company has always welcomed young people. This year was no different, when many young boys turned out for “The Magic Flute” auditions.

“I have a hard time turning kids away,” Nagel said. “They’re so enthusiastic and at such an impressionable age.”

So the ever inventive impresario decided to invent parts for the young opera hopefuls.

After casting the five spirits, who have singing roles as called for in the script, he improvised, in the time honored spirit of theater.

“I invented a concept,” he says, “that allowed me to use everyone.” The “extras” perform in non-singing roles, “for lack of a better phrase, they’re what we’re calling Dark People,” says Nagel. “They move the set, act as trees and bushes, bring props on and off the stage, make fire and water and escort characters around.”

Nagel’s concept was greeted warmly by conductor Robert Wood, who also believes in encouraging and grooming the young.

Wood, of San Francisco Opera and Santa Fe Opera, says he was “surprised and delighted” at how well the youngsters performed.

Adds Nagel, “The maestro was so excited that the kids were already memorized at the first staging rehearsal, just like in professional regional opera.”

Why such enthusiastic reaction on the part of the youth?

Part of the response comes from Nagel’s school tour of excerpts of “The Magic Flute.” Last fall, he and other members of ROC performed the shortened version to around 2,500 elementary school students in Yellowstone, Sweet Grass and other Montana counties, as well as several towns in northern Wyoming.

It’s all part of his “start ’em while they’re young” approach to opera, and building the audience of the future.

If they’re interested in the arts early, they’ll be lifelong supporters, on both sides of the footlights, Nagel believes.

Working with vocal coach Ed Harris, the young charges are learning perfect German, the language of the Mozart work. Later in the ROC season, the youth will have an opportunity to learn a new language. Next October, “Don Giovanni” will be sung in Italian. Both works will have English dialogue and English text projected above the stage.

The kids are having fun, Nagel says, “and they’re learning that not everyone gets to be a star and have a singing part. That’s part of their gift, too. They’re learning the production ropes from the ground up.”

The kids are troopers, he says, showing up each day for rehearsals, often several hours long. And they have to fit the opera in along with homework, sports, music and more.

“But it’s a rare opportunity,” says Nagel, “to work with pros from across U.S. and get this kind of hands-on exposure and experience.”

Raised in Billings, and a Billings Central High graduate, Nagel says he gets chills of happiness and excitement when he hears and sees “his kids.”

The many young helpers are diligent and curious, he says, and the five spirits are singing away in a foreign language. “Here they are in Billings, Montana, singing in German and acting, knowing what they are saying,” he says. “I love it. It makes me realize how important my mission for education is.”

Local troupe breathes life into classic opera
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2003 11:00 pm
In German it’s “Die Zauberflote.” In English it’s “The Magic Flute.”
In any language, it’s wunderbar.
Magic Flute

Rimrock Opera Company’s imaginative production of the tuneful Mozart opera has much to recommend it. The opera features striking solo voices, solid ensemble work and that nearly invisible essential to seamless opera: a masterful pit orchestra to hold it all together.

Conductor Robert Wood collaborates with ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel in this best-yet production of the 3-year-old company.

Imagination and humor flit and skip as freely as the flutes and pan pipes on stage and in the pit.

In his mission to involve youth, Nagel made the three spirits five — four agile grade-schoolers and a nimble college graduate. And he added the novel touch of “Dark People” who move the sets about, hand the actors their props and act as a kind of “German chorus” in the Greek tradition, preparing us for or reinforcing the action on stage.

Dancer Ray Spooner adds artful touches with these figures, who also mime trees, bushes, walls and more.

The story, one of the best known of opera liturgy, features the charming gourmand and bird catcher, Papageno; the dashing Prince, Tamino; the dramatic Queen of the Night and her Three Ladies; the Queen’s enslaved daughter, Pamina; the evil Sarastro, and more. Through twists and turns of the plot, the evil doers and duplicity are conquered, and love, purity and goodness triumph.

Ah, opera.

Sit back and enjoy the ride with Lisa Lombardy’s bell-clear voice doing justice to the raging Queen. Lombardy is just the right age and vocal maturity to hit the high notes, and she nails each one, including the grace notes, with precision. Her effortless high F’s transport us to the imaginary Egypt of the plot, and her “pangs of hell” threats are heavenly rendered. (Her first-act air, too, with its unerring pitch and flawless trills, brought chills of admiration.)

Another standout in a cast of no weak links is Paul Houghtalin’s Papageno. He provides the audience with merriment by using body language to convey his character’s indiscretions and charmingly feckless nature. He is a delight to watch and hear, with a deep, animated voice and stage presence to match.
Cassandra Norville’s Pamina is at once spirited and sad, wanting to be dutiful but desiring, too, to follow her heart. Her duet with Papageno brought sighs from the opening-night audience.

And Papageno’s early air with his fawn-flute sets the tone for an evening of amusement.

Kiel Klaphake’s Tamino is a constant strong and lyrical presence, with a soulful tenor voice that makes us believe he can communicate with the spirits of the forest. (Nagel makes use of more young hopefuls in the delightful menagerie Tamino woos: wild animals surround him, drawing applause and affectionate laughter.)

The singer expressively captures the Prince’s conflicting emotions.
As the coniving Moorish slave, Monostastos, Cody Maki has power and stage presence. David Hill’s all-knowing Sarastro makes us believe that right will out with his resonant bass.

The Three Ladies are an important presence, and ABT audiences warmly greeted Leslie Mauldin, who was cheered for her quick step-in as Micaela in last year’s “Carmen.” She has magnificent, magnetic stage presence and is joined by Melissa Hamilton and Nancy Downing in ear-pleasing vocals from the opera’s opening moments when they and Tamino set up the story.
Ed Harris is another steadfast presence, as the Speaker, and Angie Nelson’s Papagena delights with her impish transformation when Papageno finally mends his ways.

The retainers of Monostatos are a hoot: bruisers rendered helpless by the magic of Papageno’s bells. Nagel shows his gift for comedy but holds the line at slapstick as the men —- some of them gangling, some ample of girth — drop their thug guises and twirl like those hapless hippos in Disney’s “Fantasia.”

The costumes are a whirling dervish of colorful silken capes, vivid robes and, of course, feathers enhanced by Jeff Boschee’s muted but rich lighting.
The Opera Idaho-provided sets transport us from forest to temple to garden and cliff, with simple effectiveness although these handsome backdrops sometimes seem small for the ABT stage.

If you miss “The Magic Flute,” you’ll miss a chance to hear German well-sung by fine voices, both imported and domestic. The well-tuned orchestra delivers non-stop some of Mozart’s most infectious tunes.
In any language, bravo, brava.

Magic Flute