On the heels of a fine production of “Semele” in 2014, Pacific MusicWorks honcho Stephen Stubbs, professional singers and the UW School of Music are again joining forces to give students invaluable opera training.

Share story

There’s “opera funny,” says Pacific MusicWorks artistic director Stephen Stubbs, and then there’s “actually funny.”

Stubbs, conducting “The Magic Flute” this week at Meany Theater, believes the beloved Mozart opera — written in the 18th-century German “Singspiel” genre, which produces a play with music, not unlike contemporary musical theater — is the real deal.

“It’s not that situation where you’re at an opera and you think, oh, I’m supposed to laugh here. This production is funny, and our young actors make the most of it.”


‘The Magic Flute’

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 8-10) at Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $10-$65 (206-543-4880 or artsuw.org). Children ages 7-12 free when accompanied by ticketed adult.

Among those actors are several University of Washington music students taking on supporting-character parts in the comedy, filling out a cast headlined by professional stars including Geoffrey Penar (as the eccentric Papageno), Cyndia Sieden (the Queen of the Night), Colin Ramsey (Sarastro), Mary Feminear (Pamina) and Issaquah’s Ross Hauck (as the hero, Tamino).

That cast will be featured in three performances this weekend. A parallel, all-student version done with Stubbs and stage director Dan Wallace Miller was performed earlier this week.

Written in 1791 by an ailing Mozart, mere months before his death, “The Magic Flute” is based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, whose theatrical troupe was in residence in Vienna. Devotees will find at Meany a fresh take on the story of a young man recruited to rescue a princess from a fantastic realm. This production is a new adaptation by Karen Hartman, the senior artist-in-residence at the University of Washington’s School of Drama, says Stubbs. “She worked with Dan’s concept, and it feels very contemporary and local, like the play is happening in modern Seattle.”

The opera will be sung in German, and the world premiere of Hartman’s English-language translation will appear as supertitles.

“It’s an ironic, anti-traditional take,” says Miller, artistic director of the four-year-old, Seattle-based Vespertine Opera Theater. “Half of it takes place in a gilded but artificial, gorgeous Baroque world. The other half is set in the grimy streets of a place like Seattle.”

This Pacific MusicWorks project is the organization’s second collaboration with the UW School of Music, following 2014’s “Semele.” The arrangement is part of a new public-private partnership model initiated by School of Music director Richard Karpen, who has sought to create relatively low-cost opportunities for nonprofit music companies to produce, even experiment, at the UW — to do things they might not otherwise have the flexibility or means to do.

In exchange, those groups offer students a rare chance to participate in professional productions as apprentices, getting a taste of the pace and pressures that await them after they graduate.

“We’re doing what a university should do, which is try something new,” says Karpen. “This has worked out beyond our dreams. ‘Semele’ cost a fraction of what it would at a professional opera company. The whole point is to collaborate on things none of us can do on our own. It benefits everybody.”

The School of Music’s relationship with Seattle Symphony has flourished through a similar understanding, and Karpen is developing more win-win scenarios with other major organizations. But it has been the school’s alliance with the Grammy-winning Stubbs — the school’s senior artist-in-residence — that offers an evolving template for bringing students into a fully professional opera, paradoxically created under the UW’s auspices.

“We’re in an ongoing process of figuring out how this whole thing is supposed to work,” says Stubbs, “giving a completely professional product to the public as well as a really engaging, profitable education to the students. I feel very good about the direction this evolution is taking.”