Exploring the comedy, fairytale, and myth of Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE
By Diane Paulus
In creating a new production of The Magic Flute– one of the most beloved of all Mozart operas – the creative team has focused on what makes the story so engagingly theatrical for audiences of every generation. We have sought to explore the layers of comedy, fairytale, and myth that come together in live performance. The entire opera has been re-imagined as a play-within-the-play – a performance being created before our eyes by the members of a household and their guests in celebration of the name day of the opera’s heroine, Pamina. It is something out of the world of Shakespearean comedy, where the concepts of the theatre and the stage are presented for what they can reveal to us about our own real-world natures. Pamina and Tamino begin their journey to love and enlightenment as living and breathing actors treading the boards of an outdoor stage.
We have set the action in 1791, the year in which the opera was first performed, against the backdrop of the Enlightenment. The entire play-within-the-play is presented in the open space of a nobleman’s garden, itself a place of enchantment and symbolic power during this historical period. As the drama unfolds, the actors leave the theatre behind and continue to enact their story in an elaborate labyrinth that covers the grounds of the estate. The theatricality of their journey is enhanced by the mysteries of the outdoor world beneath the cover of night where they act out the rituals of the drama. All distinctions between fantasy and reality fade away as their pageant lasts through the night until dawn.
For Enlightenment thinkers, journeying through the architectural spaces created by a labyrinth held a metaphorical significance, as well as an aesthetic appeal. The opera references the rites and rituals of the Freemasons, the Enlightenment society in which Mozart and the librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were lodge brothers. In Masonry, a journey through a maze symbolized the passage from death to re-birth, as well as the cyclical progression from night to day. In our production, especially important is the journey of the heroine Pamina, whose admission to the Temple of Wisdom and participation in the trials by fire and water is essential to the outcome, for only in the union of the male and female do the characters successfully pass through the trials. In this complex world of imagination, illusion, and engaged performance, we hope The Magic Flute will become a new living experience for every member of our audience as well.
Diane Paulus is an American director of theater and opera who directed this production of The Magic Flute for the Canadian Opera Company in 2011.