Saturday, March 22, 2008

The World's Longest Post: Flute notes

I have been woefully inattentive to my little blog. This is with good reason, of course.... I've packed up my stuff from Dallas, come "home" to Houston, and have been working on Magic Flute and singing church gigs frantically all week. I haven't even stopped for non-stop socializing like I usually do when I come to town.

Part of the work I've been doing for Flute has involved doing interviews and articles for various Tulsa publications. This has actually been wildly useful in helping me focus my thoughts about the I see it all shaping up, but also how I see MY work shaping up. Particularly the article (it's coming, wait for it). As I considered the various ways of approaching it I came to realize that while there are many ways to accomplish the article task, there is only one me, and that is what they are paying for this time around. My article is not the most scholarly... it is direct, plain-talking, with a bit of insight and whimsy and a teeny touch of learning thrown in. Kind of exactly like me.

the article...

The Magic Flute is regarded by some as the perfect opera… and it’s true, it basically has it all: not one but two love stories; a good guy, a bad guy (and some confusion about which is which); a princess that needs rescuing; a young prince growing into maturity of adulthood; a goofy sidekick …. not to mention one of the most arresting and varied scores in all of music history. It is a show that is beloved by children and adults alike, features some of the most familiar tunes in classical music, and is one of the most often performed pieces in the repertory. And so, when a director like myself gets a call saying “would you like to take over a production-in-progress that starts rehearsing in about 6 weeks?” it is both thrilling and a little terrifying.

As you might expect from an opera that has something for everyone, The Magic Flute is a bit of a monster for a production team to wrangle into place. The cast is large and includes at least five principals, myriad secondary roles, chorus and children. There are certain fantasy elements that must be considered as well: the score calls for a dragon (or serpent) to be killed onstage, people to be swallowed into the earth, and for “trials” of fire and water. Coordinating all this can be a logistical nightmare, and it requires a skilled team.

My first concerns: what version of the score would we use? What dialogs? What does the set look like? I knew the answers to these three questions (necessarily already determined for a production that had been in the works for well over a year) would have a huge impact on the final product.

Happily, the answers to all of these questions have been really positive: our production is slightly reordered from the original score… the finale of act 2 can be problematic for a modern audience, and is often cut and moved around a bit, so as to alter the dramatic pacing a bit. We are using English dialogs which have been cut down from the original considerably. I find many productions I see get rather mired down in the large amount of spoken text, so shortening this was a welcome change. Last but not least, our beautiful set is really breathtaking. The Magic Flute we are presenting takes place deep within a forest, where the sunlight barely trickles through the trees. It really has a sense of enchantment … it is a place where fairy tales still come true.

I could not be more pleased, for while Magic Flute is a warm and funny tale, it is also ripe with deeper elements that might be explored (and exploited!) in a stage production. It has variously been interpreted as a bit of Masonic propaganda, a commentary on the French Revolution, an allegory for the ideals of the Enlightenment era in which it was written, and a depiction of the 22 major cards of the tarot deck, to name a few. All of these interpretations certainly have validity, and indeed, the depth of possibility in this great work is a cause of seemingly endless fascination for audiences and scholars alike. Famed music critic Andrew Porter said of Flute, "The libretto and the score contain between them more 'information' than any single production of the opera can hope to compass. That is why we can see it again and again, making ever-new discoveries. Each performance of the piece offers but a partial realization of myriad possibilities." For me, it is quite interesting to explore these ideas, but it is ultimately a tale about a youth becoming a man. Indeed, applying a bit of Jungian philosophy, it is the archetypal imagery in the piece that makes it possible for us to seek and find so many applicable interpretations. The Magic Flute is the ultimate fairy tale and like many fairly tales, it can be viewed as an allegory about the nature of Man and his search for harmony within himself, a theme that is as old as time itself.

It pleases me that we are presenting it as such --- our production does not aim to hit the audience over the head with our chosen interpretation. We are presenting a beautiful show with beautiful singers singing beautiful music. I hope our audiences will find it human and funny and touching, and maybe, at the end, they will feel they are a bit better for having seen it. Great art has the potential to change us from the inside out. I want to stand back and let The Magic Flute
do its work.

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