Director’s note for ‘The Magic Flute’

“The Magic Flute” is Mozart’s final opera and one of his last compositions. It premiered in Vienna in September 1791 and Mozart died a mere two months later. Despite being sick, hungry, broke and altogether miserable, Mozart’s music is some of the most joyous and beautiful he ever wrote.

The piece is technically termed a “singspiel” — meaning that it combines singing and spoken dialogue – and that means that it’s what we today call a musical. While on the surface “The Magic Flute” and its characters can be considered a bit silly, it is actually an endlessly fascinating work of art.

So many meanings have been attached to this opera: Is it about brotherhood? The meaning of true love? The method for achieving an honorable life? Some feel the work is a philosophical tract about the Age of Enlightenment, some believe it’s a commentary on the French Revolution, some accuse Mozart of purloining Masonic secret rituals. Others argue that it’s a political diatribe aimed against a conservative Austrian government headed by Maria Theresa. There are also theories that the work is inspired by tarot cards or even by the psychosexual beliefs of Carl Jung. (Obviously, the latter is historically impossible.)

Every one of these is fascinating to research but ultimately one has to tell this story in a way that will speak to modern audiences. We like the idea of approaching this largely as an adult fairy tale but with real characters experiencing real emotions. And one of the great advantages of producing opera with the Pacific Symphony is that the orchestra can be given its rightful place as a character in the piece. It really is perhaps the character of the opera. Mozart’s amazing writing not only has the orchestra supporting the singers’ emotions, but it oftentimes tells us things that words can’t express. And without giving away too many secrets, the beauty of Segerstrom Concert Hall gives a fantastic jumping off point to offer a feast for the eyes. And when all is said and done, there always is – and always will be – Mozart’s music. A beautiful hall; a world-class orchestra, cast and conductor; this opera; Mozart. What a privilege for every one of us — performers and listeners alike — to be a part of this!

Bob Neu

Tickets here

Audio: Klemperer conducts the Overture to ‘The Magic Flute’

Here’s one of my favorite recordings of Mozart’s Overture to “The Magic Flute,” with the Philharmonia conducted by Otto Klemperer. It’s stately but never heavy, and finely detailed.

Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony give three semi-staged performances of “The Magic Flute” beginning this week. Tickets here

Miscellany

A video of one of Leonard Bernstein’s last rehearsals has recently surfaced. …

The Minnesota Orchestra will be the first major American orchestra to visit South Africa. …

The Houston Symphony has named a new CEO, someone from Orange County. …

A hologram of Maria Callas makes its concert debut and The New York Times is there to see it (her?). …

Mozart beat Beethoven as the most performed classical composer in 2017; Arvo Pärt was the most performed living composer. …

Wow, is Steven Spielberg really going to remake “West Side Story”? …

In New Orleans, they’re reviving a 19th century opera on tabasco, written by an important American composer. …

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon has written a new work for the Chicago Symphony, a Low Brass Concerto that’ll take full advantage of the orchestra’s famed section. …

Miscellany

(Curated news and views from around the web. Click on the highlighted links to read the full articles.)

In The New Yorker, David Denby writes a fine summing up of the career of conductor Arturo Toscanini, on the occasion of the maestro’s 150th anniversary and the publication of a mammoth new biography by Harvey Sachs…. The Canadian guide to classical music slang intersects with our own only intermittently, but it’s still amusing…. Beethoven’s Ninth means different things to different people, including, probably, the leaders attending the G-20 summit…. Tom Service has written a guide to contemporary classical music, taking 50 composers and their music one at a time…. Italian conductors still make headlines: Riccardo Muti has led a joint concert in Tehran with the the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and the Tehran Symphony Orchestra …. Mason Bates’s new opera “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” will have its premiere at Santa Fe Opera this month…. A new recording (well, a reissue and remastering) features the music of — gasp — music critics. Some can.