OPERA SAN JOSÉ’S “THE MAGIC FLUTE”
By Iride Aparicio
Photos by: Pat Kirk
Prince Tamino KIRK DOUGHERTY playing the Magic Flute
SAN JOSÉ, CA.—The story was created by playwright/actor and producer, EMANUEL SCHIKANEDER as a Singspiel (An opera with spoken dialogue) in two acts. The music was written by his friend and brother at the Masonic Lodge: WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART. The opera, with the name of DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE (The Magic Flute) was presented for the first time at Freihous Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, SCHIKANEDER's own theater, on September 30, 1751.
It tells the story of Tamino, a Japanese prince, that after getting lost in the kingdom of the Queen of the Night, is attacked by a giant serpent (a dragon) and faints. He is rescued with the “magic” of three Ladies who are the attendants of the Queen of the Night. After he comes to, Tamino is informed by them that if he rescues Princess Pamina (the Queen's daughter) from Saraster (the priest of the sun) who had kidnapped her and taken her to his temple, Tamino could marry the princess.
Prince Tamino KIRK DOUGHERTY being attacked by the serpent.
When the attendants show Tamino the portrait of the Princess, he falls in love with her and decides to accept the task. So, accompanied by Papageno, the Queen’s bird catcher, who wants nothing from life but to find a wife, go to battle Sarastro; Tamino holding a magic flute and Papageno a glockenspiel (Chimes) on their hands. The story gets complicated whenTamino gets converted by Sarastro and his conversion demands a trial of silence, in which he must prove his mental strength in a life or dead water and fire trial.
With characters as a Giant Serpent, three Ladies with magic wands, the Queen of the Night, Sarastro the priest of the Sun, initiates, priests, a bird catcher and three Genies, and props like a set of chimes that make people dance and a Magic flute that produces a “sound” that protects people, THE MAGIC FLUTE’s plot may appear to many as the plot of a children’s fairy tale. But nothing is further from the truth. These characters have meaning and the plot is based on symbolism.
In the Vienna of 1791 where THE MAGIC FLUTE made its debut, freemasonry played an important part. Most of the intellectual Viennese talent, the scientists, the artists and the scholars belonged to the Masonic lodges, and the reason was that the free-masons’ ideas were similar to the reform policies of Vienna's Emperor Joseph II, called “The Musical King,” because many of his protegees were musicians and one of them was MOZART. So, when writing his libretto for the opera, SCHIKANEDER, who was a mason like MOZART, used some of the principles of freemasonry: The 18 male initiates in Sarastro’s temple, for instance, correspond to the 18 Masonic Lodge’s brothers. Sarastro, represents the “Master of the Chair.” And in a beautiful metaphor, Tamino begins his journey to enlightment in the nocturnal starry sky of the Queen of the Night, and ends as an initiate with Pamina (in the real Masonic Temples no women are admitted as initiates) by his side in the realm of the sun, which may be understood as going from mental darkness (before learning the teachings of SARASTRO, to light (mental enlightment).
On his part, when MOZART composed the music, he included the number three (3) as a self-reveling divinity symbol which also plays an important part in the Masonic Rites.
So, the Overture of the opera begins with three powerful chords. There are three doors at Sarastro’s temple, that Pamino tries to enter three times, giving three knocks on each one of the three doors.
In the plot, Sarastro (played by SILAS ELASH pictured left) praises Tamino for possessing three virtues: Virtue, Discretion and Beneficense. There are also three ladies, in the work, three boys and three magic instruments: a flute, a glockenspiel (chimes) and a pan pipe.
On in his composition, MOZART wrote his Allegro theme, on three strokes repeated. This same three-fold cord is heard again after the words of Sarastro to Tamino before he starts his initiation. The number three is part of the opera.
We ought to remember that even during his life, MOZART was considered a musical genius and the music that he wrote for THE MAGIC FLUTE, proves it. It is tuneful, but syncopated and played at a very fast tempo, so for the musicians it is difficult to play. On Sunday afternoon, however, from the Overture to the end of the work, the orchestra under Conductor MARCHESO played each nuance of the score with mastery. We should also mention here that the volume of the orchestra was controled and at no time overpower the volume of the singers' voices.
And like the interpretation of the music, the singing of the opera is also very difficult. Mozart wrote music, not necessarily singing music, so singing the intervallic sequence of the notes requires a complete control of the vocal instrument of each singer and his or her ability to produce beautiful high and low tones that stretches to the maximum his or her vocal range. The two singers with the most difficult arias in the work are Sarastro (ELASH) who as a Bass singer have to sing the lowest tones in the Bass-range and The Queen of the night, ISABELLA IVY, (pictured left) whose role demands her singing difficult melismas at high speed, several F’s, and to use the highest notes in the Lyric-Soprano range. Both ELASH and IVY met the challenge.
To the credit of Opera San José, on that afternoon, all the singers reached their high and low notes without any difficulty.
The MAGIC FLUTE looked beautiful and sounded wonderful because it was the product of the collaborate work of highly successful artists. During preparations, the orchestra was directed by GEORGE CLEVE who had to withdraw from health issues, but is now under the baton of two well-known conductors: JOSEPH MARCHESO and ANDREW WHITFIELD, (who will direct the orchestra from 4/26 to 5/1) both of them great musicians.
As for the singers Opera San José selected some of the best. Among them: Korean Soprano HAE JI CHANG in the role of Pamina ELIZABETH BALDWIN, as first Lady, CHLOE SMART as second Lady and LISA CHAVEZ as Third Lady DAVID MARGULIS as Monostatos and MATHEW HANSCOM and Jennie Litster in the roles of Papageno and Papagena, with WINTER FELTON–PRIESTNER, DANIEL OSTROM and CHRIS SALINAS as the three genies, to name the principals.
We should add that because of the excellent stage direction of Director BRAD DALTON the acting of every one of the singers in their different role was professional.
On the vocal part, chorus master ANDREW WHITFIELD, made his group of talented singers sound marvelous. On the visual part, the creative sets of RYAN McGETTIGAN, the Choreography by LISE La COUR, the colorful costumes of ALYSSA OANIA, and the unique lighting design of DAVID LEE CUTHBERT, which is fantastic. The colaboration of all this artists, made THE MAGIC FLUTE one of the best operas that has been presented by Opera San José.
THE MAGIC FLUTE will play at the California theatre until May 3. to purchase tickets call (408) 437-4450 or visit operasj.org.
MATTHE HANSCOM as Papageno