The Magic Flute
Replete with beautifully hysterical songs detailing the wacky phenomenon of falling instantly in love, The School of Music’s production this past week was a smashing staging of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Decked out in wonderfully intricate costumes, vocal performance majors — primarily seniors and juniors — filled Phillip Chosky theater’s stage in the Purnell Center for the Arts with classical operatic melodies during four separate performances. I attended the final showing of the opera, which was the matinee on Saturday. Because I attended this specific performance I only was able to see one of the two casts perform. Alas.
The opera opened upon a nighttime scene wherein the hero of the tale, Tamino, played by vocal performance masters student Daniel King, is getting viciously attacked by birds. Saved by the three henchwomen of the Queen of the Night — or the ladies as they’re called — Tamino is shown a picture of the Queen’s daughter Pamina, and as is totally understandable, falls head over heels in love upon first glance. The three ladies, played by masters students Taylor Troyer and Chantal Braziel and senior vocal performance major Hannah Shea, were my favorite part of the show, and their tight-knit harmonies and obsession with Tamino were both gorgeous and quite funny. The Queen, who seems to me to have the most difficult operatic role, commanded the stage even though junior vocal performance major Alexandra Aks is not a very tall person. She sends Tamino on a quest with Papageno (junior vocal performance major Robbie Raso), a rather bumbling bird catcher employee, to rescue Pamina from Sarastro’s castle where she is held prisoner. She gives Tamino a magic flute, and Sarastro a set of bells.
The set both fascinated and confused me, its primary piece being a tilted platform. The platform itself was circular in shape, with a rather large chunk taken out of it, making it seem slightly crescent-like. It was so steep, however, that I was constantly nervous of the performers tripping and falling and sliding up and down it. Clearly the cast is less clumsy than I myself would be, and with only maybe a few missed footings, everyone stayed vertical.
One thing I’d forgotten about the story behind The Magic Flute is how cult-like Sarastro’s castle and brotherhood are. After Tamino finally sees Pamina, played by senior vocal performance major Sophie Thompson, (she, of course, completely falls in love with him too), senior vocal performance major Ian Young’s Sarastro sends Tamino and Papageno through a set of challenges in order to be inducted into his brotherhood.
As they bowed in the temple, Tamino and Papageno had their own hands forcefully stretched out in what appeared to be the required salute. Definitely a cult. Part of this induction process included not talking to women, which seems a little arbitrary, but according to Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto, women seem to be the downfall of men. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I suppose.
Tamino — strong, handsome, and filled with love for the beautiful soprano Pamina, accomplishes the tasks with no problem. His final tests are done with Pamina, and due to his use of the flute, go by without a hitch. Papageno, suffice to say, does not make it through the induction process, mostly because he is a chatty Cathy. He is also super desperate for a lady friend. When he’s finally rewarded with Papagena, played by junior vocal performance major Colleen McGovern, she’s immediately whisked away. All is not lost though, as they are reunited in the end with the most adorable song of the night. They also hopped around the stage in an adorable way.
The Magic Flute, or Die Zauberflöte, has been my favorite opera that I’ve seen at Carnegie Mellon. Though I haven’t mentioned nearly everyone in the cast, including the helpful spirits who help guide the quest, and Monostatos, and the Armored Guard with its Speaker, and the wonderful chorus, everyone made the full house laugh and clap very enthusiastically.
Maybe some of the themes of the original are mildly sexist, but sometimes you have to let that go for the sake of some truly great art.