Current Opera: The Magic Flute (Nov 2016)

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For our second production at Jacksons Lane, we will be returning to a firm favourite, Mozart’s, The Magic Flute.

November 11th to 20th, 2016

Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London.

Premiered three months before the composer’s death, in his final opera Mozart brings to life the quest of Prince Tamino, and the bird-catcher Papageno, to rescue the Princess Pamina. Caught up in a struggle between her mother, the volatile Queen of the Night and the powerful High Priest, Sarastro, the adventure leads them to wisdom as well as love. The Magic Flute is an ideal demonstration of Mozart’s unsurpassed ability to blend layers that are seemingly contradictory into a profound whole. In this Singspeil, Mozart combines both spoken dialogue and sung drama to tell a story that, moving backwards and forward from popular and learned musical styles, ends up hovering between the sublime and the comic.

The director, Toria Banks observes: “It’s an opera about Enlightenment, but it can be pretty baffling. I’ve really enjoyed starting from scratch: spending as much time as possible with the score and the libretto, finding my way to the heart of it.

That’s where I find Pamina. Because the other thing this opera can be is staggeringly sexist. In it, a man presides over the Temple of Wisdom, and the thing he seems to care most about is stopping women from getting inside it. He also kidnaps a young woman, and exposes her to repeated attempted sexual assault. If we see Sarastro as the great wise leader it’s a real problem. Except I’m not sure that we should, because Mozart also wrote Pamina. When Sarastro makes Tamino take trials to prove himself, Pamina refuses to be the prize in a test of his manliness, and insists on participating in life as an equal. Then she enters the Temple of Wisdom and throws open the doors for good. She’s a special heroine.

It’s the generosity of vision that strikes me most. The Magic Flute is a comedy, not just because it’s funny, but because it’s optimistic about humanity. It’s been a tonic in hard times, to be honest. The story starts with a failure of heroism, when Tamino faints fighting a serpent, but it ends, not with more and better heroism, but with grace and love. Once I’d started to see the initial fight as George and the Dragon, the story started to reveal layers of parable and satire: to be about where we are now. It’s not a straightforward allegory, but it resonates. It’s uplifting to work on, particularly with brilliant collaborators, like Chris and Emma [Bailey, Linbury Prize winning designer], and a cast full of youth and energy.”

A theatre director for over a decade, since moving into professional opera Toria has been staff director for ETO (where she met then staff conductor, Chris Stark), and Revival Director for the acclaimed ROH production of Cavalli’s ‘L’Ormindo’ at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, at Shakespeare’s Globe. She has also directed new operas at the Grimeborn and Tête à Tête festivals. She taught acting at Arts Educational Schools for five years, and has been working with singers as Resident Director at Trinity Laban since 2009. This is the first time she’s worked with HGO.

Christopher Stark is the Conductor and co-Artistic Director of the RPS Award Winning Multi-Story Orchestra, based in a Peckham Car Park, with whom he made his debut at the BBC Proms in September. The Orchestra has appeared at the Aldeburgh and Brighton Festivals along with a yearly orchestral programme in Peckham. He has worked as Assistant Conductor for the BBC Proms, Glyndebourne Festival and Glyndebourne on Tour who awarded him the Lefever Award in 2014 for work on The Turn of the Screw, and for English Touring Opera. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.