There is a bit of a mystique to opera that you can only overcome by taking the plunge and going to a show. This is what we did for The Magic Flute. I had never attended an opera performance. One of our daughters adores playing her flute and wanted to see the show just because of the title. When the invitation arrived, we decided to see our first opera together.
We wanted to attend the pre-show conversation, but the falling snow put us a bit behind. We left early to compensate for the weather. It just wasn’t early enough to enjoy the 30 minute pre-show conversation. One hour before each performance, the Lyric Opera holds a “how to” session. Ticket holders are invited to listen to the Lyric Opera staff give them behind-the-scenes details to help them enjoy the opera. They educate new recruits so you reduce your “first opera” fears and settle into your seat with the knowledge that you are ready to be immersed in the experience. Not everyone who attends is new to opera, though. We have friends who have season tickets. They often attend the pre-show conversations just to learn what the producer is thinking when creating the show or to better understand the musical score.
It was clear as soon as The Magic Flute opened that this was a story with elements we’ve seen before. It was a battle between good and evil, with Prince Charming, the Evil Queen and a determined, willful Snow White princess thrown into the mix. The Magic Flute is also a funny, whimsical story. Papageno, the bird man, provides much of the levity. From his costume to his career to his inability to find a wife, Papageno is the every man caught up (against his will for the most part) in the battle of good and evil. Our general familiarity with the story made it easier to understand what was happening and why.
This version of The Magic Flute was set in a 1950s backyard. From the moment the curtains open, a full-sized, two-story Cape Cod house filled the stage. It was on stage every moment of the show. This was not an empty shell, either. The actors used both floors during the show. You could look into the windows to see a full dining room table, actors going up and down the staircase, and the supernumeriaries moving across the second floor.
The show started off as a children’s backyard theater performance. The adults quickly entered the stage, but the children never really leave. It’s part of what gives the show its charm. At intermission our teen-age daughter said it was like the grown-ups on stage were really the kids. We just saw them as grown-ups because they were playing grown-up characters. It’s that kind of imagination that children and teens bring to the show. They are not constrained by any previous versions of The Magic Flute. They can take the performance on its own merit and use their own interpretations to enhance the show.
The Magic Flute was performed in German, with English subtitles above the stage. It was quite easy to get used to the subtitles. One of music’s great charms was that emotion comes through no matter what the language. Some of the translations caused our daughter to roll her eyes. There were a few phrases about women obeying men and listening to men. She leaned over and said, “Boy this play must be really old if they believed that back then.” I was glad that she recognized that the work was a product of its time, despite the modern staging.
We read the program before the performance, which also helped us understand what was happening. In The Magic Flute guide there was a synopsis of each act. At first I wondered if reading about the scenes before seeing them would take away from the performances. It turned out that it was helpful to have that context in advance to help us understand each scene. We never felt like we knew exactly what was going to happen. Each scene stood on its own as we moved through each act.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned opera fan, The Magic Flute is a fun holiday adventure. The amazing performances cover the entire range of human emotions, which might seem overwhelming except for the casual backyard setting. It’s a delightful holiday outing most appropriate for older children and teens.
Shari writes about life with twins at Two Times The Fun. Image courtesy of Stefany Phillips for the Lyric Opera, Chicago.
Disclosure: I did receive media passes. My words and opinions are my own.