The beloved Mozart opera with eye-popping costumes by designer Zandra Rhodes returns to the Seattle Opera stage May 6-21. Bring the family — the opera says it’s for ages 5 and up.
One of the most charming productions in Seattle Opera’s history will return to McCaw Hall this weekend: Mozart’s 1791 “The Magic Flute,” in the most magical version an audience could ever imagine. From the moment the season was announced, this is the one show that music lovers declared “unmissable.”
With its colorful and clever sets (by designer Robert Dahlstrom and technical director Robert Schaub) and its spectacular storybook costumes (by British designer Zandra Rhodes), this “Flute” will again be staged by Chris Alexander, whose nimble yet thought-provoking direction won so many kudos last time (in 2011).
The production is so fleet and so funny that Seattle Opera is advertising its suitability for children “ages 5 and up.” Aidan Lang, the company’s general director, points out that the show is constantly changing, and it works on many different levels. For the youngest operagoers, there are brilliant and mythical creatures, playful and humorous action, “magical” entrances and exits, and spectacularly colorful costumes along with the constantly changing music.
Seattle Opera: ‘The Magic Flute’
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Julia Jones conducting, and staging by Chris Alexander; May 6-21, McCaw Hall, Seattle; $25-$292; (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
For the rest of us, there’s even more. Lang points to a sketched diagram on his office wall that reads: “Art — Experience — Meaning — Impact/Understanding — Better Citizen — Community.” These six levels are ways in which an opera can affect an audience. Art, Lang explains, is “a fusion of emotion and thought.
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“From that fusion, we get meaning and self-understanding. Ideally, we leave a better person than when we arrived. It’s easy to get stuck on that first rung where we’re merely being entertained. But I believe there is a purpose to art,” Lang explains. “It should have a civic impact.”
For all the fantasy and fun of “The Magic Flute,” Lang says there are deeper lessons to be learned.
“I think the opera’s most significant line is at the end of Act I, where the libretto translates more or less as ‘If the right path of human understanding is followed, then we will have heaven on earth.’ It’s all about society’s path to tolerance and understanding. Those who abuse their power, like the Queen of the Night, haven’t learned responsibility and wisdom.”
The plot of “The Magic Flute” certainly illustrates a journey toward clarity. The Queen of the Night sends Prince Tamino and his comical bird-catcher sidekick Papageno off to rescue Pamina, a kidnapped princess, from the supposedly villainous Sarastro. But as they proceed, Tamino discovers that the real villain is the Queen. With Pamina by his side, Tamino journeys toward truth and light, enduring trials with the aid of a magical flute.
Illuminating this journey is some of the most magical music ever made: some of it very simple (like Sarastro’s “O Isis und Osiris”), and some of it wildly complex (like the Queen of the Night’s famously florid and highflying arias). It is the music, of course, that continually charms listeners, performers and conductors. Lang points with pride to this production’s conductor, English-born Julia Jones, whom he calls “a very stylish conductor who brings a real classical poise and discipline to the score.”
“I feel an affinity for Mozart,” says Jones, who also is general music director of the symphony and opera of Wuppertal, Germany.
“I wouldn’t want to be on this planet without him. He had such a vivid personality and a wonderful instinct for opera and drama. He loved the voice and had the most amazing talent at combining words with melody.”
Jones, who makes her Seattle debut with this production, calls the singers “excellent — strong performers both vocally and on stage.”
“With the orchestra, we are working on clarity and transparency as well as underlining the dramatic moments. It’s great to have musicians that are so flexible and open,” she adds.
“I think this ‘Flute’ is perfect for Seattle. It’s modern, but done in such a refined and elegant way. It’s an opera in which there is a place for everyone, whether they are a prince, a priest or a feathered bird-catcher.”