Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opera Carolina’s 'Magic Flute' an 'art'-ful classic

Jun Kaneko designed the sets and the costumes for Opera Carolina’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” but the Japanese native is much better known as a sculptor and painter whose works grace art galleries all over the world.

It’s no wonder, then, that the show – which opened Saturday to a sold-out Belk Theater crowd – begins with a video-projected feast for the eyes: shimmery blue lines; followed by a sequence of interconnecting, zagging, crawling lines that play like a giant, colorful Etch-a-Sketch; followed by a montage of pop-art.

Seven minutes later, you’re properly enchanted. And that 32-foot, two-headed serpent hasn’t even begun to hassle our hero Tamino yet.

Mozart’s music and Emanuel Schikaneder’s narrative remain intact in the Charlotte company’s collaboration with Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and San Francisco Opera, where it debuted last summer.

The tale of the earnest young prince who is given a magic flute and goes looking for love and enlightenment still features his goofy bird-catching sidekick Papageno, his fair princess-to-be (hopefully) Pamina, and the mysterious Queen of the Night. Tamino must still undergo trials of wisdom to prove himself a worthy husband. Papageno must still find his way to his Papagena.

But as refreshed by Kaneko (also the man behind last winter’s “Madama Butterfly” reboot for Opera Carolina), the look and feel of this particular “Magic Flute” seems to have borrowed inspiration from a dozen Tim Burton movies, as well as from that drawing app your toddler uses on the iPad.

Every morsel of imagery delights, or stimulates, or seems to give a pop-cultural wink.

There’s something decidedly Spider-Man-like about Papageno’s (Kyle Pfortmiller) bodysuit. If you don’t look at sleazy Monostatos (Julius Ahn) and think Gene Simmons in Kiss makeup, you weren’t a child of the ’70s (or ’80s, or ’90s). And do we detect a little Bride of Frankenstein thing going on there with the Queen (Maria Aleida)?

You might be reminded of different things than I was, but that’s just a testament to how imaginative and evocative Kaneko’s work is.

The fact that “Magic Flute” is 100 percent in English makes this an ideal introduction to opera for all ages, and supertitles help during musical passages (though they did seem to drop out in two or three instances Saturday). However, it’s still nearly three hours long with intermission, so the experience will test younger children’s patience. The staging and costumes may be visually exciting, but the pacing is not exactly zippy.

As for the arias and other vocal arrangements, tenor Shawn Mathey (as Tamino), Korean soprano Yunah Lee (as Pamina), and bass-baritone Tom McNichols (as Sarastro, leader of the temple that’s holding Pamina) all sound strong and confident (though McNichols can be a bit more difficult to understand than the others). Meanwhile, Cuban-American Maria Aleida astonishes as the Queen – as any soprano playing the Queen should; her first and last arias, with their runs and leaps, would leave Mariah Carey stupefied.

The real star, of course, is Papageno. It’s a showy character, the adventure’s comic relief, and Pfortmiller is perfect – bright, quick, flexible, funny. Anyone who gets to slip in a joke about The Clapper in a 222-year-old opera while most of the rest of the cast is always so serious will be an instant fan favorite.

Still, one person got a larger ovation during the curtain call Saturday. That’d be Kaneko. Thanks to him, Opera Carolina’s latest is a true work of art.

There are two more upcoming performances of ‘The Magic Flute’: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. $15-$140. 172 minutes, including a 22-minute intermission. In English, with English subtitles. 704-372-1000;

Monday, January 14, 2013

Charlotte native's ad could be Super Bowl-bound

Providence High School grad Mark Freiburger, now a Hollywood filmmaker, has created a Doritos commercial that could air during the Super Bowl.

According to a press release, Freiburger, 29, has always wanted to make family films and that was the inspiration behind his ad “Fashionista Daddy.” Click here to view the ad.

Selected out of thousands of entrants, Freiburger and the four other finalists will compete for the chance to have their ads air during the Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 on CBS. Two ads will air -- one selected by America’s votes and one by the Doritos brand team. The finalist whose ad scores highest on the USA TODAY Ad Meter rankings will get to work with director Michael Bay on the next installment of the “Transformers” movie franchise, along with a shot at a $1 million bonus.

People can vote for their favorite commercial on the "Doritos Crash the Super Bowl"-branded app on the Doritos Facebook Page ( and/or on the Facebook mobile app through Jan. 29.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

'Banshee' star relishes sexy role

Ivana Miličević has been doing film and TV work for 17 years, but her role on Season 1 of "Banshee" -- which premieres on Cinemax at 10 p.m. Friday -- marks a couple of firsts for the Bosnian-born actress.

It's the first time she's been the female lead on a TV series, and it was her first time in North Carolina, which is where all 10 episodes of the series were shot last year.

In "Banshee," Miličević plays a former thief who has been leading a quietly domestic life in Banshee, Pa., under a false cover for years. Her husband-and-two-kids existence is idyllic ... until her old partner-in-crime/lover (Antony Starr) comes back into her life, having stolen the identity of her small town's new sheriff.

Miličević is hardly a household name, but you've probably seen her on-screen before. She's a former Bond girl ("Casino Royale"), and famously appeared opposite Will Smith in 1998's "Enemy of the State" (as an amused salesgirl in a lingerie shop). She also played an American hottie in the British-based Christmas rom-com "Love Actually."

But she calls Carrie the role of a lifetime for her.

"I just love this part," Miličević says. "It’s very lucky and ... it’s rare for a female character to be written so well, and so emotional, and so in love, and so torn, and so tough, and so sexual."

"I loved the script. ... When I read it, it read very pulpy, and I was like, 'Wow, this is so kind Quentin Tarantino-ey in a way, like Coen Brother-ey, and funny in its heightened reality, but so emotional, because I really can feel this love story. So first and foremost, probably the love story drew me in. Second of all ... look at what I get to play. I get to fight. I get to train. I get to love. I get to be sexy. I mean, if not now, when?"

She also loved North Carolina.

"I’m from Michigan, so some bits of it reminded me of Michigan. Especially in the summer. When I got there, I noticed all the wild blackberry bushes everywhere. So I couldn’t wait for those to ripen. And I was really looking forward to the fireflies."

She also didn't mind that it was one of the hottest years on record.

"I loved the weather. I loved it when it got hot. I was just like, 'Come on, bring it.' ... In L.A., it’s never too cold. It gets a little hot for a little bit. But I’m talkin’ some good old-fashioned humidity. I could handle it. I was like, 'Bring it.' I loved it."

Oh, and "Banshee" marked one other key first for Miličević: It was the first time she'd ever taken her clothes off for a role.

"I've never wanted to. I've never been inspired to. But for this, I was," says Miličević, 38. "I was like, 'Oh, for this, it needs to be done, and it needs to be done well. It needs to not be done with a sheet wrapped around me; it needs to be done like a husband and wife do it. ... I just kind of wanted it to be natural. And I don't really find them gratuitous because ... it's part of the story."

In the series pilot airing Friday night, things get hot and heavy between Miličević and on-screen husband Rus Blackwell -- although her character, Carrie, actually has former flame Lucas (Starr) on the brain.

And yeah, believe it or not, there's character development going on here.

"I was telling my family, they were like, 'Oh, we just won’t watch (the sex scene).' But I said, 'No, you kind of have to, because there’s story points in it. It’s not just there to be there, like, 'Hey, let’s take a moment and get turned on.' "

For more on "Banshee," check out this story.