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Actor-singers shine in ‘Night Music’

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"A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC," Utah Opera, Capitol Theatre; Jan. 26, 28, 30 and Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.; special Olympic performance Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Infidelity and intrigue abound in the Utah Opera production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music."

Originally written for musical theater, "A Little Night Music" marks a slight departure for Utah Opera. Although there are certainly operettas and even "serious" operas with spoken dialogue, it's a little unusual to watch a Utah Opera production of a work that shifts the emphasis to spoken dialogue.

To Utah Opera General Director Anne Ewer's credit, she chose a wonderful cast that could both sing and act, and the production quality is outstanding. Utah natives Kristen Hurst-Hyde as Countess Charlotte Malcom and Anne Cullimore Decker as Madame Armfeldt practically steal the show with their witty character depictions. Hurst-Hyde drops her zinger one-liners right where they belong, while maintaining a complex and interesting role, while Decker's wonderfully dry and caustic Armfeldt is truly delightful.

Of course, the other characters are also outstanding in their own right: Adria Firestone as Desiree Armfeldt brings depth and multiple facets to her character, as does, to a degree, Jeff Mattsey as Fredrik Egerman. Matthew Chellis as Henrik Egerman and Elisabeth Comeaux as Anne Egerman are also enjoyable.

While the character depictions are both important and enjoyable, it's the singing, of course, that people come to hear at a Utah Opera production. All of the performers have beautiful voices, some more operatic, some more on the musical-theater side. Sondheim's style of writing, while brilliant, isn't operatic. Opera composers generally write to show off the human voice.

All of the singers clearly articulate the words (which is important with Sondheim) and bring out the clever melodic interplay (which is practically a Sondheim trademark). And while Sondheim's style in this work doesn't give the operatic voices a chance to blow the doors off the back of the hall, it does provide an opportunity to demonstrate some of the voices' more subtle skills — as demonstrated by Mattsey's ability to maintain solid vocal strength, even at low volume levels.

If there is a "show-stopper aria," it is Desiree's rendition of "Send in the Clowns." Firestone's rich and expressive voice handles the somewhat simple melody beautifully, but it is the subtle yet powerful emotional content that makes the song so memorable.

The set and costumes look as if they were cut from a Monet painting. The backdrop is a wide screen with Impressionistic images projected onto it. The costumes look as though they were covered with the paint dabs, which, in an Impressionistic painting, the eye blurs into a single color. In the middle of this very soft atmosphere sits a series of platforms and staircases with completely exposed metal construction and legs; the contrast seems a little harsh.

E-MAIL: rcline@desnews.com