Love... magic... destiny. Springfield Regional Opera presents a much-loved operatic fairy tale for young and old, Mozart's "The Magic Flute", Friday and Saturday April 13 and 14 at 7:30pm at the Gillioz Theatre, 325 Park Central East. I talked with SRO’s Artistic Director Michael Spyres about the production. The well-known tenor is not performing in it (he just got back to Springfield from a stint singing the lead role of Vasco de Gama in Frankfurt Opera’s production of Meyerbeer’s “L’Africaine”)—but his wife AND his brother are both in “Magic Flute.”
Michael Spyres calls “Magic Flute” “one of the beloved operas of all time—and one of the most enigmatic as well,” because of the work’s many possible layers of interpretation: faith, constancy, good vs. evil, and the numerous Masonic references.
The production is sung in German, but spoken in English; that’s because “Magic Flute” is what, in German musical terminology, is referred to as a “Singspiel”: there is both vocal music and spoken dialogue. In this regard, says Spyres, the “Singspiel” genre is a sort of forerunner of the modern Broadway-style musical.
Michael Spyres took on the task of creating the English translation of both the spoken portions and the English texts of the musical numbers which will be projected above the stage proscenium as supertitles. One of the fascinating aspects of “Flute” is that its libretto isn’t just in “German,” says Spyres. “It was in German AND Austrian dialect. And unless you understand Austrian German, you will not understand all of the jokes.” In other words, it’s tricky business for any translator trying to keep the sense and spirit of the lyrics and dialogue in the conversion to English. Michael Spyres lived in Vienna for some time, and was coached in the finer points of Austrian/Viennese dialect, as it specifically applies to Emmanuel Schikaneder’s libretto, by the vocal coach of the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival. “And he taught me, line by line, the beauty, and how hilarious this text was. You can only find the goal one you know what to aim at.”
At the same time, “Magic Flute” is very family- and kid-friendly, because it really is sort of a fairy tale with good guys, bad guys (and occasional confusion as to which is which), magical happenings, and lots of comic relief. Says Michael Spyres, “’Magic Flute’ deals heavily in archetypes, as do many other operas”—and most all fairy tales for that matter—“many different characters boiled down to one persona,” as Spyres explains it. “You can interpret it in so many ways. You can really do an intellectual, Jungian archetypal structure and go into the anima and the animus... but you can also just make it a silly little children’s play. It’s so malleable. And that’s why it’s been performed more than any opera of all time. I really think it’s the most accessible opera of all time.” He goes on to mention author/poet W. H. Auden’s thoughts on the opera: that it brings brilliant truths to life, but also contains incredibly beautiful music. Adds Spyres, “And it doesn’t matter where you decide to draw the line between philosophy and real life. You have it all encompassed in one in this very accessible opera. I believe it was Mozart’s version of a unified field theory of what human existence is. It’s a reflection of what the world, and life, can be.”
Speaking of Mozart’s music, Michael Spyres finds “Magic Flute” fascinating because it contains one of the highest (in terms of vocal range) operatic roles, and one of the lowest roles, ever written: the evil Queen of the Night, and the high priest Sarastro. In addition, the story takes the audience literally from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again... the ridiculous personified in the character of the Queen’s official bird-catcher, Papageno. “Half-bird/half-man, half-animal/half-spiritual creature. Is there any better allegory for the human existence?” asks Spyres.
The cast is a mix of local singers and nationally-active artists. Michael Spyres’s brother, Sean—the other tenor in the family—is Prince Tamino. And Michael’s wife, soprano Tara Stafford-Spyres, is the Queen of the Night. Papageno is sung by a former SRO Young Artist, Andrew Curtis, who is currently finishing up his degree at Texas Christian University. Michael Spyres calls him “a fantastic singer, and this is his first major debut role. He’s one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met, and is the true heart and soul of what Papageno is.”
The two out-of-towners in the cast are soprano Sarah Walston as the Queen’s daughter Pamina, and bass Ben Wager, returning to SRO as Sarastro. Wager sang the title role in “Don Pasquale” for SRO last season. Walston hails from Richmond, Virginia, and is active in opera productions all over the east coast. She and Tara Stafford-Spyres studied together at the Peabody Conservatory, and have been good friends for years. Michael calls her “one of the best Paminas I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” As for Ben Wager, he and Michael started together years ago at Deutsche Oper Berlin. “He just finished up his first Wotan (in the Wagner “Ring” cycle) in Philadelphia a couple of months ago. He’s a pretty amazing bass, and we’re very lucky to have him come in.”
Tickets range from $28 to $38. Michael Spyres would like ticketholders to arrive at 7:00, a half hour before curtain, as he will be delivering a pre-show talk about the opera before each performance. For $80 on Saturday the 14th join SRO behind the curtain for a one-of-a-kind opera pre-show party, the "Red Curtain Affair," in The Gallery at the Gillioz starting at 6:15 p.m. This SRO fundraiser features hors d’oevures and cocktails catered by As You Like It, along with a pre-show lecture in which Spyres promises to offer an even more in-depth look at how and why “Magic Flute” was composed. The $80 charge includes premium seating for the Saturday night "Magic Flute" performance.
For ticket information call the Gillioz box office at 863-1960; for information visit www.sropera.org.