Returning to their roots: The Magic Flute kicks off Austin Lyric Opera's 25thSeason
Nov 8, 2011 | 2:00 pm
One of Mozart's most famous works, The Magic Flute, has resurrected itself at the Austin Lyric Opera. This is the production that started it all, opening the stage in 1987 for the debut performance of Austin's first professional opera company. Co-founders Joseph McClain and the late Dr. Walter Ducloux envisioned a dynamic company that would enrich, entertain, and educate the community. In January 1987, the sold-out inaugural production of The Magic Flute debuted to rave reviews, and an opera company was born.
Now, the timeless opera opens ALO's extraordinary 25th anniversary season. Mozart's 1791 fairy-tale fantasy boasts an astounding cast of creatures and what is perhaps the most popular aria in opera history by the Queen of the Night. Two original members from the 1987 production have returned: soprano Sally Wolf as the First Lady and bass Kevin Langan as the Speaker of the Temple. Wolf originally appeared as Queen of the Night in 1987, while Langan was Sarastro.
The physical production of prior performances of The Magic Flute was designed by Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of such other rich fantasies as Where The Wild Things Are. Susan Threadgill, who was the production stage manager at ALO for 23 years, remembers the Sendak set as beautiful, and recalls the "fabulous" young cast. "In the Sendak version, everything was very childlike. Round, soft creatures; even the dragon was a round, soft, pudgy little dragon."
The current production, by contrast, is created by the Florentine Opera Company. Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Richard Buckley explains the difference in both look and feel of the new experience: "[Sendak's] visual take on the story was specific and, like his illustrations, geared to his style or look. This production is more noble and speaks to the mystical, ethereal, masonic undertones; more to the symbolic humanitarian lessons the characters are experiencing. As always, we have different voices, which is one of the joys of opera, and you will experience their artistry and interpretations."
The current set is definitely a "less is more" visual, with much achieved in the way of lighting and mood. The performance is fluid and gorgeous, with a few unexpected comic touches and a campy show-stealing number near the end, by David Adam Moore as Papageno and Jamie-Rose Guarrine as Papagena. Arthur Espiritu's Tamino is brooding and intense, and Juliet Petrus as Queen of the Night is solid in her delivery of the challenging aria.
"The melodies abound in this score," Buckley adds. "I have said often that by this time Mozart’s musical language is so profound, that with far less, he communicates so much more. Not only is it tuneful, both in sorrow and joy, but a wonderful mix of deep emotionality with lightheartedness. Its story is as true and meaningful, basically timeless, and its lessons we all can learn from."
There is more rich ALO history in this season's performance of The Magic Flute. Hanan Alattar, who plays Pamina, is a former participant of Austin Lyric Opera’s Young Artist program and James Moellenhoff (Sarastro) is a former student of the co-founder Dr. Ducloux. In the past quarter-century, ALO has developed a reputation as an innovator and showcase for new American opera talent, with productions that have fused with major international artists, directors, and designers garnered international acclaim.
Threadgill recalls the early days of the company. "It was exciting and hectic. We had a great collection of professionals who knew their job very well, but didn't know each other very well. So we had to put together a team and make it work. There was a certain sense of trepidation because we had never done this before." But today, she says that singers have told her, "I sing at the Met to make money—but I sing in Austin to remember why I do this."
Claude Decloux, son of Dr. Ducloux, says that it was very important to his parents that the opera was not an "exclusive" club, not just for the rich, but something the community would take great pride in supporting. "He really believed, to the depth of his existence—both my parents did—that if people had the chance to see a first-class opera, they would get hooked on it. Because it is the ultimate art form and when you think about the number of orchestra members sitting in that pit, each of whom have played their instrument for 20 years…and then you have these incredible voices; it's just a synthesis of a million hours of talent, all in one place."
For his part, Buckley is excited to look to the future of the Austin Lyric Opera. "Where the next 25 years are going to take us is something I hope people seriously start looking at. Within our celebration of what we have done and where we are, what we can and do achieve on the stage now, I think we have to put a fair amount of energy into who and what we want to be—and for whom will we be performing in the next 25 years."
Two performances of The Magic Flute remain this weekend: Friday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 13 at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased by calling (512) 472-5992 or visiting the Austin Lyric Opera website at www.austinlyricopera.org.