Opera has a stigma of being lengthy, expensive and hard to understand. Performing Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Tuesday, the Ohio Opera Theater and the Ohio University Symphony Orchestra aim to challenge those notions by performing a fun and accessible opera that anyone can enjoy.
Written just months before the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death, The Magic Flute was an opera written for the masses, even when it debuted in 1791. With lyrics written in German instead of the traditional opera language Italian and a fun and humorous plot, Mozart was able to compose some of his most inspired and moving music for an audience beyond the elite. Centuries later, the opera is still celebrated for its beautiful music by a wide audience, with a children’s performance being performed every Christmas by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
“There is a story, and there is emotion, but it’s not like going to see a dramatic movie or a comedic movie,” Steven Huang, the conductor and associate professor of instrumental conducting, said. “It’s more like, have you seen the Transformers movies, where you can’t really follow what’s going on? It’s like one of those.”
The Magic Flute sees the hero Tamino sent on a quest by the Queen of the Night to defeat the evil Sarastro, who has taken the princess Pamina captive. Tamino, with his blundering sidekick Papageno, overcomes a series of trials, discovering along the way that things might not be as they seem.
“The Magic Flute instead was meant to appeal, kind of like maybe what an action-adventure movie, like an Indiana Jones movie or Star Wars movie would be now,” Huang said. “So it’s less of a drama or something like that. It’s more of a blockbuster title. So the story of The Magic Flute is more reliant upon those effects than they are as telling a beginning-to-end story.”
Having been around for centuries, many different productions have put twists on their performances of The Magic Flute, playing with the time or setting to give their performance something to distinguish itself from the myriad others. Tuesday’s performance will be fairly orthodox, said Andrew Ryker, the director of opera and an assistant professor of voice. However, there is a slightly more contemporary fantasy setting with the costumes.
“We’ve got unique and cool costumes that maybe have a look to them that you’ve seen in other things that will kind of help you to see the good versus evil elements,” Ryker said. “There’s almost like a Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones look to some of the costumes.”
“Good versus evil” encapsulates most of The Magic Flute’s themes, and Ryker has been tasked with bringing those themes to light onstage.
“The story is about good versus evil,” Ryker said. “It’s night versus day, or light versus dark. And that is hopefully in the costumes, that’s in the characters, that’s in the lighting. It’s in as many places in the show as we can put it to help tell that story.”
To maintain the original sound of the opera, the performance will have English dialogue and German lyrics, with English translations projected onstage. That has posed a challenge to some performers but not to Lena Daitz, a senior studying vocal performance.
“It was easy to pick up for me, but that’s in my case,” Daitz said. “I love German. German is one of my favorite languages to sing in. And I just kind of naturally have an affinity for it, because my mom is Danish. So I’ve had it in my ear. But for some people who are more new to the program, it’s definitely been difficult.”
Of course, The Magic Flute wouldn’t be as celebrated if it weren’t for the masterful music by the one and only Mozart. His music subverts many tropes common to opera, which is why the composer’s music is iconic even to this day.
“This is the last opera that Mozart wrote,” Huang said. “He died shortly afterwards. And in many ways, it represents the height of Mozart’s compositional life. He died very young, in his 30s. But the stuff that was coming out of his head in the last three or four years of his life was just incredible, so amazing. What’s amazing about it is his ability to capture nuanced emotion, affect, emotion, feelings, with his music.”
There are so many different ways to approach The Magic Flute, and it makes sense that everyone would want something a little different for audiences to take away from it.
“So what we hear from his music, what I want people to take away from this is just the nuance and depth of Mozart,” Huang said. “That’s my goal: to show the complexity of Mozart’s music. And we certainly hope that the singers and the musicians onstage can show that complexity.”
Ryker, being the opera’s director, wants people to enjoy the spectacle and musicality.
“There’s a lot to see,” Ryker said. “There’s a lot of action. There’s a lot of fun music. I don’t think that the message itself is particularly deep. I think that it’s something that is accessible to a lot of people.”
Daitz believes there are messages to be taken away from the opera but also wants audiences to just have fun.
“The main lessons that you take away from this are: Don’t give up on love; it’s never too late to forgive; and find humor in everything,” Daitz said. “Get ready to laugh.”