A Feast for Your Eyes and Ears: The Magic Flute

Courtney Lewis, Conducting Electricity

Courtney Lewis, Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony

In a few weeks the Jacksonville Symphony will present our largest production of the season, The Magic Flute, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s perennially popular opera. It’s my favorite Mozart opera, a fairy tale of good versus evil, enlightenment versus ignorance and the journey of finding your own way in the world.

After the famous overture, we’re plunged straight into the drama. A young prince, Tamino, far from home, is being pursued by an evil monster. Just when he thinks he’s toast, three strange ladies arrive and kill the serpent. They announce that they work for the Queen of the Night and show Tamino a picture of the Queen’s beautiful daughter, Pamina. Tamino instantly falls in love with her. The ladies tell him how Pamina has been captured by the evil Sarastro who has imprisoned her in his Temple of the Sun. Vowing to save his beloved, Tamino sets off to find Pamina. Before he goes, the Three Ladies give him a magic flute to help him, and, to much comic effect, they also send a birdcatcher, Papageno, along with him for moral support.

When Tamino arrives at the gates of the Temple of the Sun, he realizes that all is not as it seemed. Sarastro is not evil after all. He has been protecting Tamino from the Queen of the Night who has only selfish desires for her daughter. Sarastro sets Tamino and Pamina a set of tests to prove themselves worthy of each other. With the magic flute in hand, the two lovers complete the trials. Just when it seems they can be together, the Queen of the Night and her servants arrive, threatening to ruin everything and return Pamina to her selfish mother. However, Sarastro intervenes and banishes them, leaving the lovers to be together in a newfound enlightenment.

The crux of the drama lies in our gradual realization that it is the Queen of the Night who is evil, not Sarastro. In the first act, we only hear the Queen’s side of the story, and of course, unchallenged, we believe her. When Tamino arrives at the Temple of the Sun, Sarastro’s servants gradually paint a different picture. Thus, we begin to question the morality of the Queen in real time with Tamino. At first, we’re unsure that things can be so different from what we were led to believe, but gradually, we understand that we’ve been misled. It’s this journey of realization that I find so powerful because it mirrors many of our own experiences of growing up, questioning what we were told as children and finally coming to our own understanding of what is right in the world. Tamino experiences the discomfort of leaving the certainties of the world as first described to him, and only with guidance and wisdom does he come to see how things truly are. I’m sure this is an experience many of us can identify with.

Mozart’s music brilliantly paints the nuances of this journey. The Queen of the Night is cast as a coloratura soprano–that is, a soprano who sings very high notes. In her Act One aria, we hear her stratospheric high Fs as an indication of her sincerity and grief that her daughter has been taken from her. However, when she reappears in Act Two, we understand that this expression was false, and her virtuosity was all trickery. Similarly, we gradually learn to trust Sarastro because of the calm beauty of his music, full of wisdom and truth.

The brilliance of The Magic Flute lies in its appeal to vastly different groups of people. Teenagers and adults may appreciate the journey of self-discovery, but younger people may simply enjoy the humor of Papageno, the birdcatcher, who spends much of the opera humming with a padlock on his mouth as a punishment for lying. We’re setting our production in a fairy tale land that will appeal to all ages. As in our previous operas, the sets will be projected onto massive screens on either side of the Jacoby Symphony Hall stage, which will be converted into an opera house for one week only! We’re delighted to welcome the acclaimed director Kristine McIntyre and an all-star cast. Our Associate Conductor, Kevin Fitzgerald, will make his Jacksonville opera debut. The Magic Flute promises to be a feast for your eyes and ears.