Friday, April 22, 2011

The Magic Flute at HSU
Interview: Elisabeth Harrington, director

"The Magic Flute is a Singspeil opera, which technically means a play with singing. It’s telling a story and using music as part of the story. It’s a forerunner of musical theatre. But it’s not your typical musical theatre or operetta kind of singing. It’s opera.

It’s partly a love story between the hero Tamino, played by Philip de Roulet, and the princess Pamina, played by Brandy Rose. Tamino is not a hero from the start—when he’s attacked by a serpent in the beginning, he faints and has to be rescued by three ladies. But he goes through many trials and dangers, so it’s a hero’s journey. Pamina has her moments of despair, but there’s a happy ending.

There are a lot of famous features to The Magic Flute. The role of Papagano, played in our production by Chris Hatcher, is a very popular role, very big in the opera world. Probably the best-known musical snippet is the super high coloratura display by the Queen of the Night—that role is sung by Nanette Voss. It goes up to the top extreme of the soprano range—there’s controversy over whether it was meant to be sung or meant to be ridiculous— it’s kind of scary, which is appropriate since the Queen of the Night is evil.

We moved the action from ancient Egypt to ancient Mayan. Birds are a big image in Mayan culture, and Popagano is a bird catcher for the Queen of the Night. We’ve enlarged the theme of birds, so we have these wild parrots who appear throughout the show, for example. When Pamino plays the magic flute, the birds are revealed to be these noble, wonderful and beautiful creatures.

All of this helps in how we’ve downplayed and in some cases omitted racial and sexist elements in the original script. We haven’t changed significant aspects of the story, but we don’t want the audience to be taken out of the play by objectionable elements. Basically we’ve substituted nature and birds for racism and misogyny.

In the end the focus is on nobility and truth, honesty and bravery and staying the course, as well as love and friendship. Our show is geared towards all ages. It’s a charming and delightful and timeless story, with good triumphing over evil, even though a lot of the evil turns out to be misguided and misunderstood, so the bad characters are not really that bad. There are elements of magic and mystery. It’s visually very interesting and in a small theatre the audience has a lot to see as well as hear.”

Photos: Philip de Roulet and Brandy Rose

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