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Show Review – Peabody’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)… just like an NYC opera

Thanks to our newest contributor, J. Varrone for this review of Peabody’s performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

From March 12 until March 15, 2008, the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University performed Mozart’s The Magic Flute, held at 7:30pm each night in the conservatory’s Friedberg Hall. The entire opera was performed in German and featured students of the graduate and undergraduate level. With a sell-out performance each night I was glad to have purchased my tickets early, especially for Wednesday’s opening performance. Having seen several renditions of The Magic Flute prior to this one, I was eager to see Peabody’s take on Mozart’s renowned opera.

A little about its history: premiering in Vienna’s Theater auf der Wieden on September 30, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) was one of his last opera’s composed and performed before his death in December. It was written as a Singspiel, a style of opera that includes both spoken dialogue and singing, and is based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. Comprised of two Acts and featuring a variety of folk-like songs, The Magic Flute is reminiscent of a children’s fairy tale. And as with any fairy tale, there is a happy ending… a contrast to any ending normally found in opera. Because of this, The Magic Flute is appropriate for all ages.

Upon taking my seat in the audience I was immediately drawn to the simple set design, featuring a small runway-style platform with two sets of stairs. But hidden behind this platform was a screen that, as I would soon find out, displayed projected images of various backgrounds designed by several students at MICA. Being an admirer of art and the artistic interpretation of text and music, I was very impressed with this concept. The use of screens to change sets was a fantastic idea, requiring fewer stagehands and decreasing the amount of time spent to create the background. I was especially impressed with the screen used in Act I when we were first introduced to the Queen of the Night. The entire background was dark purple in color and had images that appeared to be glow-in-the-dark, and only the faces of the Queen of the Night and the three ladies were lit. Other screens were less dramatic, but the use of props added a certain element that made the scenes more realistic. Peabody’s choice and use of scenery was extremely effective and made me feel as though I was one with the scene, simply acting as a witness to Tamino’s trials and Pamina’s bouts of depression.

Having good scenery also requires a good cast, and Peabody was easily able to accomplish that. The roles were cast perfectly. I was very impressed with the level of professionalism of the performers, and from the crowd’s reaction it appears they were impressed as well. In my opinion, operas should be performed in the original language the libretto was written in… English translations are not my thing. For example, the Met performed The Magic Flute in 2004 and although they did a fantastic job with the sets and props, they failed to perform it in German. This greatly detracts from both the arias and the spoken dialogue. Peabody’s choice to perform The Magic Flute in German, with super-titles for us non-German speakers, was a wise choice.

When the opera ended and the performers took their last bows, I left Friedberg Hall and asked myself why people pay hundreds of dollars for NYC operas when we have great operas being performed right in our city. Great music of all genres exists in every city, and musicians will always need an audience. Having been a bass player in several jazz bands back in the day, I know the feeling. Definitely expand your horizons and check out a few other genres of music… you never know what it’ll amount to.

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