By Nikita Gourski, Development Communications Officer
The depth of Mozart’s genius is evidenced by his last opera, The Magic Flute. A child-like fantasy is paired with the master’s most stunningly beautiful music. Do you need to brush up on your Flute knowledge or simply want to learn more about our upcoming production? Here are 10 Things About The Magic Flute!
Mozart worked during what is now known as the Classical period (roughly 1750-1820), when composers sought to move beyond the elaborate forms and “artificial” gestures of the Baroque era in order to capture raw human emotions—such as love, anger, sadness, etc.—with greater immediacy. Classical composers were interested in expanding the dramatic palette of music while simultaneously embracing simpler melodies that were written in evenly structured phrases, making them catchier and more memorable. (Indeed, The Magic Flute features possibly the catchiest passage for soprano ever written: the Queen of the Night aria in Act II.)
In his short lifetime, Mozart composed more than 600 works, including symphonies, piano sonatas, chamber music, choral masses, dances, concertos, art songs, and operas. He died less than two months after Flute had its world premiere in Vienna in 1791 and consequently never knew the full extent of its success: just over a year after the premiere, it celebrated its 100th performance and continued to grow in popularity ever since. Today, it is Mozart’s most frequently performed opera.
Flute is the most famous example of a singspiel (meaning literally “sing-play” in German)—an operatic form in which musical numbers (arias, ensembles, etc.) alternate with sections of spoken dialogue.
The plot of Flute concerns a noble prince, Tamino, who is ordered by the mysterious Queen of the Night to rescue a beautiful kidnapped princess, Pamina. With the aid of his comic sidekick—the bird catcher Papageno—and the help of a magic flute, Tamino sets off on an epic quest through the trials and tribulations of love.
Both Mozart and his friend Emanuel Schikaneder—who wrote the opera’s libretto and starred in the premiere as Papageno—were members of the same Masonic lodge, and the opera reflects their fascination with the rituals of Freemasonry. For example, in a nod to Masonic practices of initiation, Tamino goes through several rites of passage to enter the brotherhood of the temple before he can become worthy of Pamina’s love. Mozart was also immersed in the emerging ideas of the Enlightenment period—an intellectual attitude that placed reason at the centre of human potential—which is evidenced in the names of the temples Tamino must enter: Wisdom, Reason, and Nature.
This COC production (premiered in 2011) was created by Tony Award-winning Broadway director Diane Paulus with set and costume designer Myung Hee Cho. “We wanted to capture the fairy tale aspect,” Paulus said at the time, “but also bring out the deeper meanings of enlightenment, and ritual, and Masonic architecture, and structure and enigma that are hidden inside.”
Paulus and her team begin with an 18th-century “name day” party, at which the action of Mozart’s opera is being staged as part of the celebrations. Consequently we see a charming stage on the stage, where the opening scenes of the opera play out. But as we move further into the story, the initial framing device falls away, giving us the effect of getting lost in the opera and its story—not to mention a constantly rearranging garden maze—just as the party guests do.
The costumes by Myung Hee Cho reflect the historical fashion of Mozart’s time (18th century) while incorporating contemporary influences and materials; for example, the spiked hair and leather outfits of the Queen of the Night and her three ladies. Cho also captures the essential fairy tale quality of Flute in her designs for the forest animals and three-headed dragon that appear in the show, all while keeping the feel of these creations decidedly low-tech, continuous with the notion that somebody is staging a play in their own garden.
This production features the COC debut of eminent Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie, who has performed with Glimmerglass, Santa Fe, and the Metropolitan Opera, among other prestigious destinations. “He moulds the phrases, plucks out all-important details in the texture and radiates an infectious joy in the music” (The Telegraph).
This production features numerous artists—including tenors Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland as Tamino; Ambur Braid as Queen of the Night; and Jacqueline Woodley as Papagena—who are either graduates or current members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio training program. Their presence on the mainstage of one of the world’s finest opera houses speaks to the quality of preparation the Ensemble Studio has been delivering for more than three decades.
The Magic Flute is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from January 19 to February 24. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Andrew Haji and Elena Tsallagova in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo: Michael Cooper; Ambur Braid as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo: Gary Beechey; Lauren Segal as the Third Lady, Emily D'Angelo as the Second Lady, Aviva Fortunata as the First Lady and Andrew Haji as Tamino in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo: Michael Cooper; Jacqueline Woodley as Papagena and Joshua Hopkins as Papageno in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo: Michael Cooper.
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Featuring Lauren Eberwein, COC Ensemble Studio Member
The Canadian Opera Company prides itself on its commitment to breaking down barriers to opera across all age groups: children can create their own operas with the Scotiabank After School Opera Program and Scotiabank Summer Opera Camps; youth can speak directly with artists and attend rehearsals through Youth Opera Lab; workshops and tours go directly into schools; and adults can connect with opera on another level through Opera Insights, Pre-performance Opera Chats, and Opera Talks. In addition, Opera Under 30, presented by TD, offers opera lovers under the age of 30 tickets to mainstage productions for $22.
Without education and outreach programs like these, your favourite singers might not have discovered their love of opera. We recently spoke with rising star and COC Ensemble Studio member Lauren Eberwein about her initial experience with this art form, as well as opinion on how to make opera fun and accessible.
What was your first experience with opera like? What was the opera that really hooked you on the art form?
The first opera I experienced live was Rossini’s The Barber of Seville with my junior high music class. Honestly, I can’t say I immediately connected with the art form. I loved the music but still felt at a distance. At that time I was making music in choir, band and orchestra, but I hadn’t yet connected with operatic vocal music. I sang, and had witnessed plenty of singing, but never like that. Opera singing really is otherworldly, and I think as a young person, even more so. The scale of the art form can isolate young audiences. There are a lot of barriers for a young person to overcome in order to sincerely connect with the art form. So, in all honesty, my first experience didn’t hook me.
I didn’t truly get the opera bug until I joined a youth opera program called "Project Opera" when my family moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. I spent every Saturday afternoon singing with my peers. It was a safe haven of music and theatre geeks exploring this grand art form together. We spent our weekends sharing the joy of singing and telling stories through music.
How do you think young people can/should be introduced to opera?
The first hurdle young people face is the barrier of actual access. Most opera companies are doing their best to increase access for kids: afternoon matinees for students, youth opera programs, community engagement programs, school tours, and so on.
But before we get their butts in the seats, music education is vital. Educators can inspire, interest, and expose young people to the complexity and grandiose nature of opera before they witness it in person. This is imperative—especially for young audiences. Opera demands a lot from a youthful audience: they must process complex orchestral scores, operatic vocal technique, foreign languages, costumes, plot, set, lighting, etc. It’s what makes opera the most all-encompassing live art form—but can also be a lot for a young mind to process—and I believe when we overload them they are more likely to shut down. If the art form can first be distilled in classrooms, young people are then better able to receive it when they visit the theatre.
I also believe a lot of the barriers could be deconstructed by an awareness in the performer. Kids are open and often really eager to learn. The majority of young people are totally game to jump headfirst into the mystery that is opera—but we have to give them an entry point. We must perform with them in mind. Sing to and with them, not at them.
The COC’s 2016 Ensemble Studio School Tour of Matthew Aucion’s Second Nature is a perfect example. The piece is brand new, sung in English, and the narrative follows the journey of two kids who leave the safety of their artificial habitat and work to heal the planet. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future that could very well become reality for a future generation, and the kids immediately understood this. And everywhere we went we encountered bright young minds, with astonishingly astute insights.
I believe it’s our job as performers to approach every piece with absolute trust in its ability to inspire. If we fearlessly dive into a piece and share it as our truth, we better invite our audience to join us on the adventure. I find that with kids this is even more important, and the reward is even greater.
How are opera stereotypes incorrect?
Opera is not an art form exclusively for the rich elite. In fact, most new opera goers are young people. Opera can be expensive, but so can a pop concert, and there are almost always rush tickets, student discounts, and package deals at the opera. I’m relatively new to Toronto, but I already know that this city has opera coming out of its ears. The indie opera scene here is like none other—young companies are sprouting out of the woodwork and creating truly awe-inspiring and innovative work. It’s accessible, affordable, and it’s everywhere!
How has being a fan of opera changed your life?
Opera gives the gift of feeling emotion on the grandest of scales, and in the depths of your being. When I experience emotion at the opera, I feel it in the marrow of my bones. I go to the opera to be powerfully and colourfully inspired.
Qualicum Beach, BC native Lauren Eberwein placed second in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio Competition in 2016. She studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and was a member of Opera Philadelphia’s Emerging Artist Program. Her credits include Baba the Turk in The Rake’s Progress, The Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, Zita in Gianni Schicchi, Tisbe in La Cenerentola, Mère Marie in Dialogues des Carmélites, Second Lady in The Magic Flute, and Dido in Dido and Aeneas (Curtis Opera Theater); Sorrel and Dodo in Double Exposure, Olivia in Cold Mountain and Clairon in Cappriccio (Opera Philadelphia). She made her Carnegie Hall debut singing Handel's Israel in Egypt with the New York Choral Society. This season with the COC she sings the role of Wellgunde in Götterdämmerung.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Lauren Eberwein and Iain MacNeil in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson; Wendy Nielsen and participants of a Youth Opera Lab; Lauren Eberwein in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson; Lauren Eberwein, photo by Bronwen Sharp
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001