In a world where reality and fantasy collide, a young hero sets out on an adventure to rescue the damsel in distress…
Opera North will bring Mozart’s most famous opera to the stage this January as they present a brand new production of The Magic Flute. It will transport you to a world of magic and mystery, where surprises lurk around every corner and musical instruments have secret powers. But all is not what it seems and as you move further into this intriguing world, you’ll discover that good and evil aren’t as clear-cut as you might expect.
The Magic Flute is a modern day fairy tale
On the surface, The Magic Flute is a traditional fairy tale. In fact, it’s a story we’ve all heard a hundred times before. The princess has been kidnapped by the Priest of the Sun, so her mother, the Queen of the Night, sends our hero Tamino to rescue her. But as he delves deeper into this mysterious world of magic, trials, and yes, cults, he finds himself questioning who’s good and who’s bad.
Some say The Magic Flute is complex, but here it’s beautifully simple
Musically, The Magic Flute is extraordinary. It will absolutely blow you away, but the story itself is open to interpretation and every director puts their own unique stamp on it. Some, for example, view it through the lens of the Freemasons, who Mozart was said to have joined while he was writing it, but here, Director James Brining is more interested in the audience’s experience of the opera.
“The reason classics are classics is because they have something to say to us even well after the time they were written in,” he explained. “As a theatre director, my job is to create a coherent story that an audience can emotionally engage with. What I’m interested in doing is making a piece that speaks to contemporary audiences who are thrilled by the music and the execution of it. I want to make a brilliant piece of theatre with exquisite music throughout, that’s also emotionally, psychologically and visually engaging.”
You won’t believe the Queen of the Night’s costume
The Queen of the Night is a dark, nocturnal character who despises the daylight so much that she sends her huntsman to kill the creature that signals dawn. And so her dress is made not from material, but from dead birds, hung around her as a warning to the light. It has all the eccentricity and glamour of a Tim Burton movie brought to the stage.
The Sun Priest is the leader of a cult
In this production, the fantasy world we find ourselves transported to is inspired by the real world around us. In fact, the whole story is a whim of the imagination, not of Mozart or librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, but of a young girl who dreams of escape. In this fantastical place, magic and religion live side-by-side, and the Priest of the Sun is, in fact, the leader of a modern-day cult.
“In our version, he’s portrayed as the leader of the free world, or a cult perhaps. It’s a world of uniforms and high-spec tailoring, where everyone but the people in high power have to wear the same and behave the same. It has elements of The Handmaid’s Tale permeating through its veins, as The Magic Flute deals with issues of the same ilk,” Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond told us.
They’re going to bring their fantasy world to life with projections
Opera North has drafted in world-class Video Designer Douglas O’Connell to bring their fantasy world, and the characters within it, to life. He’s turned the stage into a magical place filled with wonder – expect eye-popping colours and Hitchcock-style swarms of birds fleeing the Queen of the Night.
They’ve really championed the women
The world was a different place when this opera was written. The patriarchy was firmly in place and women knew theirs, but times have changed, and a world where women are subservient isn’t relevant to today’s audiences.
“The narrative arc is that the woman is evil and must be defeated by the man. At the end, the man defeats the woman and the couple are brought round to his way of thinking and that’s a triumphant success. That’s problematic to me,” Brining confessed. “We’re living in a world where gender identity is under huge scrutiny – gender roles, relationships between men and women, particularly in a very explosive way around the whole #MeToo movement, and the question around the patriarchy, how is society structured and what do we take for granted? It comes down to tiny little details.”
Those tiny details turn our damsel in distress into a strong, confident and capable woman who can free herself once given the right tools for the job.
The music is simply incredible
Mozart’s music is so good that it filters through to every aspect of our lives, so even if you’ve never seen The Magic Flute before, you’re sure to have heard the Queen of the Night’s aria. You don’t need to understand what she’s saying, the music tells the story as she hits those stratospheric high notes in her rage.
But that’s just one song. The entire opera is filled with awe-inspiring music, played beautifully by the Orchestra of Opera North, and it’s hugely varied. It moves from touching duets to huge chorus numbers with over 60 people on stage, so there’s never a dull moment. And it’s sung completely in English, making it even easier to follow the action.
It takes on the tricky topic of suicide
Imprisoned in the temple of the Priest of the Sun and unable to choose her own destiny, Pamina finds herself with no choice but to take her own life. This is a fairy tale, so she’s stopped by the three spirits, but while it may be a fantastical setting, it’s the psychological reasons for her actions that Brining brings to the fore.
“I hope the audience will understand why this strong woman that we’ve created is driven to a point where the only control that she can exercise is to take her own life. And this is where you start doing research about self-harmers, eating disorders and suicides – often they’re a response to a lack of control in people’s lives,” Brining explained. “Rather than a big operatic gesture, it’s trying to understand psychologically what’s motivating her to do this dreadful thing, which we then avert. It might sound quite dark, and I think it is quite dark, but it’s also quite joyous.”
There’s a massive inflatable octopus
Every fairy tale needs a monster and in this one it’s a huge octopus. But how do you create that on stage? Easy, with two 15-foot inflatable tentacles! Watch them move and contort before your eyes as our hero does battle.
There’s something strangely familiar about The Magic Flute
Pop culture isn’t something you’d expect to see in an opera, but there it is. From The Handmaid’s Tale to Hitchcock and even Star Wars, they’ve taken inspiration from books, films and even a hit TV show to bring this 227-year-old opera into the modern world.
“There are quite a lot of cultural references,” Brining told us. “It isn’t completely up-to-date, it’s not like they’ve got mobile phones and are listening to grime, but it feels relatively contemporary. It’s a bit like a mash-up of The Handmaid’s Tale, Doctor Who and Black Mirror. There are sci-fi elements, there are even lightsabers.”
Opera North’s The Magic Flute comes to Leeds Grand Theatre from Saturday 19th January to Friday 1st March 2019. Tickets start from just £15.