Taking THE MAGIC FLUTE Back to its Roots
as Popular Musical Theatre
The Magic Flute caused a sensation in Mozart’s time. The 1791 box-office hit drew immense crowds and was performed nearly 100 times within the first year. It continued to receive hundreds of performances throughout the 1790’s. Certainly this is a testament to the greatness and depth of this multi-layered masterpiece by Mozart and his librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder. But it also reflects the fact that Mozart and Schikaneder were not writing an opera for the aristocracy. They created a Singspiel – a musical – for the common people.
Like Broadway musicals today, Viennese Singspiels were performed in the every-day language of the audience. In order to preserve that sense of immediacy and connection with the audience, a performance for an English-speaking audience should be in English. (In fact, it was typical in the 18th century for an opera to be translated when it was taken to another country.) Super-titles are a modern invention. When it comes to 18th-century drama, they make a poor substitute for performing in the language of the audience.
Mozart led the performances each night from the glockenspiel – the high-pitched, bell-like keyboard instrument that represented Papageno’s magic bells. In opera houses today, a celeste is normally substituted for the glockenspiel. Happily, our production features a period-reconstruction glockenspiel from London, built by British organ-maker Robin Jennings for use by John Eliot Gardiner in his recording of The Magic Flute in the 1990’s. Read Mr. Jennings’ notes on this instrument.
The voices thatMozart intended for this Singspiel were much lighter than opera singers of today. Pamina was played by Anna Gottlieb who was 17 years old. She was an experienced actress, and had created the role of Barbarina in Figaro at the age of 12. She was from a family of professional actors/singers. But she must have had a girlish voice. Our Pamina, the young Tess Wakim, has a fresh and girlish timbre that is considerably lighter than one normally hears in this role today.
Likewise, Papagena was played by Barbara Gerl who was 21. And Papageno was played by Schikaneder himself – an actor and impresario, but not a trained singer. The Three Boys were played by children, including Schikaneder’s daughter Anna. Likewise, we have cast three children in these roles. In short, this is not an opera and it was not intended for operatic voices. It is a musical.
We are thrilled to have acclaimed baroque choreographer Carlos Fittante and his dance partner Robin Gilbert serving as mime artists throughout the show - portraying enchanted animals, trees, and other magical elements with the stylish panache of period artists. German artist Kay Konrad has designed beautiful scenic banners in a period-inspired, fairy-tale style.
- Jeannette Sorrell