Introducing... The Magic Flute
We explore Mozart’s magical opera in advance of our semi-staged autumn performances
In this instalment we explore Mozart’s The Magic Flute which returns to Glyndebourne this autumn for a series of semi-staged, socially-distanced performances and features an exciting cast of up-and-coming singers.
A brief introduction:
Premiered just months before Mozart’s death, The Magic Flute in many ways represents a new departure for the composer. Catching the spirit of revolution in the air, Mozart turned his attention for the first time from court opera to popular opera, writing this singspiel (‘sung-play’) for a new and much broader audience.
When Prince Tamino sees the beautiful Pamina he falls instantly in love. But she has been kidnapped by Sarastro, so with the help of bird-catcher Papageno he sets out on a quest to find her. Searching for love, Tamino finds much more than he bargained for. Faced with a decision he must choose between darkness and light, order and chaos, duty and desire. Which will it be?
The Magic Flute is one of the composer’s most enchanting works, a fairy tale that uses familiar archetypes to ask provocative and difficult questions about religion, the nature of power, the bonds of family, and of course love.
What to expect:
While it’s not possible to mount the fully staged production of The Magic Flute that was planned for Tour 2020, we are delighted to bring you a series of semi-staged performances, sung in English and conducted by Leo McFall.
As we can’t have an interval (due to social distancing), this will be an abridged, 90 minute version of The Magic Flute, featuring all of the most famous moments from the opera and the orchestra will be on stage.
So what does semi-staged mean? Our Artistic Director Stephen Langridge explains, ‘There’s no scenery, and the costumes and props are what we could find that we thought helped the story and fitted the singers.’
‘Our dedication at Glyndebourne is to ensemble music making, ensemble acting, and a way of working which is collaborative’ says Stephen, ‘so while we call this a semi-staging, the performers don’t view it that way: for them it is the full thing. Mozart and Schikaneder were both practical theatre people, and we think they would have approved of our refusal to give up in the face of adversity!’
A great moment to look out for:
If you’re looking for the high point of The Magic Flute it doesn’t get much higher than the Queen of the Night’s Act II aria ‘Der Hölle Rache’. Originally composed as a showpiece for Mozart’s sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, the aria has been a favourite among coloratura sopranos ever since – a dazzling piece of musical magic and technical bravura that takes its singer right up to the very top of her range.
Thwarted by Sarastro, the Queen of the Night orders her daughter Pamina to kill her enemy. Filled with rage, she explodes into this exhilarating aria that is part threat and part incantation.
Although the melody is a memorable one – full of chromatic aural drama, unexpected rhythmic emphasis and athletic vocal leaps – it’s the pitch that really sets this piece apart. The repeated top Cs (which sound almost like a series of musical stabs, remember the Queen of the Night has just given Pamina a knife) are infamous, but the aria actually extends even higher, featuring several high Fs as well – one of the highest notes to feature in a mainstream classical score. This is the music of a woman on the brink, an aria of extremity, desperation, maybe even madness.
Here is the aria, performed by Caroline Wettergreen in the fully staged, Festival 2019 production.
For these performances we have brought together some of the most outstandingly talented singers that we have worked with in recent years, many of whom started out in the Glyndebourne Chorus.
This includes the former and current Jerwood Young Artists Huw Montague Rendall and Madison Nonoa-Horsefield (who both appeared at the concert that celebrated 10 years of the programme this summer) as Papageno and Papagena. Playing Tamino is the New Zealand tenor Thomas Atkins, who would have appeared in Fidelio this Festival 2020. Huw and Thomas will be returning to Glyndebourne next summer to take on roles in Così fan tutte and Kát’a Kabanová respectively.
Queen of Night will be played by Nazan Fikret, who wowed audiences as one of the professional singers in Agreed, our acclaimed 2019 community opera.
Pamina will be sung by Gemma Summerfield, who was a finalist at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup in 2018. You can watch a clip of Gemma performing ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ from the opera below.
Image credits: Die Zauberflöte header, painted collage/original images Wikimedia Commons by Shadric Toop | The Magic Flute, autumn rehearsals 2020, photos by James Bellorini