VCU Opera tackles Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’

Samantha Foster
Spectrum Editor

Princesses, evil queens and bird catchers graced the stage of the W.E. Singleton Center to sing and perform an age-old tale of love and vengeful women.

On Friday and Saturday night, the VCU Opera and the VCU Symphony Orchestra performed Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” The opera is a combination of spoken dialogue and singing in German. VCU’s production of “The Magic Flute” includes the translation of the songs on a screen above the stage, so the German songs and storyline can be followed. The spoken dialogue is in English.

“The Magic Flute” follows the story of a young prince as he searches for a young princess with the help of a bird catcher, all while the evil queen, famously known as the Queen of the Night, causes trouble for the journey. The prince is given a magic flute to fight any evils and enchant anyone who hears it, including animals. Although the play is set in Egypt, the setting is not essential to the play since it has a timeless quality that can easily translate to different settings.

VCU’s production of “The Magic Flute” includes more than 70 VCU students within the opera, symphony and backstage crew. Photo by Forrest Nguyen.
VCU’s production of “The Magic Flute” includes more than 70 VCU students within the opera, symphony and backstage crew. Photo by Forrest Nguyen.

All of the costuming in the opera was donated in 2011 by William Welty, who gave the VCU opera department $200,000 worth of costuming including more than 1,000 pieces of clothing. In the costuming, there were specific time periods and operas that could easily be represented, including Egypt for “The Magic Flute.”“The Magic Flute” is the fourth most performed opera in the world according to the Operabase website, but this is VCU Opera’s first year to perform it due to its high degree of difficulty. More than 90 people are involved in the production of the opera, including the singers, musicians and backstage hands, 77 of whom are VCU students. Vocal performance major and sophomore Zarah Brock believes the opera is difficult because of the amount of singing involved.

“The amount of singing for a lot of singers is hard, especially for (the Queen of the Night),” Brock said. “The big challenge for a lot of singers is that it’s their first time working with a conductor. We’re going from a piano to a 36 person orchestra. … I think we just had the people for it (this year). Any Mozart opera lives on because it’s musical genius.”

Brock performs as one of three young boys who guides the prince through his journey, but also work for the Queen of Night to hinder his journey.

“We’re sort of double agents,” Brock said. “I also sing with the second and third spirits. It’s neat to see each part, each singer enhances the others.”

Vocal performance graduate as of December 2012 and princess Pamina, Gianna Barone, has enjoyed seeing the piece finally assembled during the week before the performances.

“It’s been humbling to see what can happen in two to three days,” Barone said. “All of the different passions and artistic views come together.”

While Barone did find her character to be very different from her own personality, she still embraced the challenge of taking on a different role.

“She’s kind of whiny but innocent. She’s definitely a princess,” Barone said. “I like the challenge. The music is hard and the character is not me.”

The VCU Opera has received three awards total from the National Opera Association, including winning second place in the National Video Competition for “Hansel and Gretel” in 2011 and first place in their NOA division for “The Old Main and The Thief” in 2012. A quintet scene from “Carmen” in 2011 was selected as one of five national finalists in the NOA Conference in January 2013.

For senior vocal performance major Nichole Savage, the Queen of the Night is her first role in a VCU opera. While she does feel the pressure to perform the character well, she said that it has been fun to be the infamous queen.

“She’s evil as hell,” Savage said. “Her character represents how women can’t be alone without men. I get to blackout rage on stage, which is fun. … It’s cool that it’s such a notorious role.”

Savage also believes that because a lot of the music in “The Magic Flute” would be recognized by those who do not listen to opera music, it is a good first opera to see.

“It’s a great first opera if you’ve never seen one because there are lots of characters,” Savage said. “The music is well known and there is a variety of things happening on set.”

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