St. Paul's Opera, 2016
Mozart’s music is undeniably genius. Less certain, however, is Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto, which weaves a convoluted fairy tale rich with masonic symbolism where high fantasy is periodically interrupted by characters moralizing, making the story at times nearly impossible to follow. The renowned English musicologist, Ernest Newman, said of the libretto, “the greater part of the text is miserable hack work that would be well within the powers of anyone who could handle a pen.” Harsh criticism; but is it valid? Edward J. Dent called the libretto “one of the most absurd specimens of that form of literature in which absurdity is only too often a matter of course.” Directors often compensate for this convoluted story by over-conceptualizing; from Kenneth Branagh's film version set in World War One to the more surreal and abstract renditions, it has been interpreted in many wild and wonderful ways. However, by finding the humanity in each and every character, we can tap into something much more powerful. Pamina’s strength and audacity are at the heart of the story— she is a protagonist with a strong journey and great power, as well as a complex relationship with her mother.
Despite the convoluted narrative, at the opera’s heart are themes of good triumphing over evil, the need for patience, wisdom and love as the ultimate joy. The show is full of hidden gems of brilliant psychological drama waiting to be unearthed. And Tamino and Pamina’s journey into adulthood is reminiscent of that moment when summer holidays end; when the magic of youthful fantasy fades. The allure of this epic exploring universal themes of friendship and love, with a backdrop of mysticism and magic— and some jokes on the side— is undeniable.
We began the show in a seemingly normal seaside setting in the 1960s— a time of change and new possibilities. Our heroes set out across the ocean to Sarastro's abstract world where they face life changing trials. The show was rooted in the summers of childhood, when it felt like anything was possible. When you left the cares of school behind and just by wandering away down the beach you entered a different world. A time when you fought sea monsters, made friends with seals and seagulls, and built sandcastles— only to have them destroyed by the tide. We’d like to welcome you back to that magical realm of childhood, summer, and the seaside.