Saturday, March 23

Mozart opera from a galaxy far, far away


Mozart opera from a galaxy far, far away

Classic ‘Flute’ uses colorful characters, music to entertain the
child in all of us

By John Mangum

Daily Bruin Staff

You’re doing word association. Someone shouts, "Mozart" and you
reply "George Lucas."

Sound strange? Not to Professor John Hall, director of UCLA’s
Opera Workshop. They present Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" until May
14, and Hall draws parallels between the opera and Lucas’
outer-space film epic.

"Basically, I approach it, I hope, in a kind of childlike and
naïve way in that it’s a fabulous fable, a quest for finding
yourself and finding your mate, your life partner.

"It’s like Star Wars to me. It’s a Luke Skywalker kind of thing.
It’s a young man trying to decide what’s right, what to do with his
life. Fabulous things happen to him, amazing things happen to him,
magical things happen to him, but he has to find his own way.
That’s kind of the story that I hope comes across the
footlights."

Hall and the performers, joined by Members of the UCLA Chorale
and the UCLA Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Professor Donald
Neuen, try to convey all of the layers of this very popular
work.

"My biggest problem as a stage director is trying to show these
levels of class, of station and of involvement and to make them
appear meaningful for a 1995 audience," says Hall.

Presenting this story to the audience can be difficult though.
The plot doesn’t always move smoothly from one scene to the next,
and one of the more obvious jolts comes with an ending which, in
the wrong hands, seems hurried and doesn’t bring the expected
resolution.

"In 1995 we kind of want a little more flash and whoopee there
at the end when the bad guys get down. You know, the bad guys get
taken care of in about 64 bars and they’re gone, and somehow I
guess we want to torture them more or something. It’s funny.
They’re sucked into the temple. I don’t know. It amuses me
anyway."

Essentially, humor and amusement are two things which figure
largely in this work. Mozart was not trying to appeal to the snooty
crowd at Vienna’s Imperial Burgtheater, but rather to the general
public in 1791. Because of this, Hall compares the opera to more
popular forms of entertainment in our own time.

"It has spoken dialogue between the musical numbers, and it’s
very similar to our Broadway show in that respect," Hall says.
"This was a populist kind of thing. It wasn’t highbrow stuff."

A colorful cast ranging from a human bird named Papageno to the
evil Queen of the Night helps bring the tale down to earth. This
rich variety of characters, explains Hall, gave costume designer
Alex Jager a formidable source of inspiration.

"The Queen of the Night is very elegant, very haute couture. Her
costumes are very chic and she’s got a real pizzazzy glitter to
her, and it’s very showgirl. The three ladies are kind of amazon
warrior maidens. They’re kind of big hair, party dress, S & M,
leather tops. It’s very amusing."

Angela Jajko dons the big hair as the second lady in her first
operatic appearance. She believes that students bring an approach
to the work indicative of discovery that few professional casts
could muster.

"It’s our first ‘Flute,’ so nothing is ever going to be as fresh
as this for us," Jajko says. "The opera gets performed a lot, but
this is the first time for us.

"Obviously the singing isn’t going to be quite as polished as a
professional production, but the thing that I like about John’s
productions is that he keeps them at a very high level of
quality."

Hall himself continually stresses how entertaining the show is.
He also emphasizes that Mozart’s masterpiece contains something for
everyone, even for those who consider themselves musically
sophisticated.

"In so-called ‘arty society,’ there’s this kind of thing to be
avoided in my estimation, and that’s false sophistication or that
kind of jaded cynicism we use to approach artistic events," Hall
says. "Basically, it shows that a lot of our opinions are governed
by reviews that we read in the paper.

" … You know, Mozart wrote some very sophisticated music, and
some of that is in this, but not all of it, and some of his most
beloved music in ‘(The) Magic Flute’ are these simple songs that
Papageno sings, you know, the little pa-pa-pa-pa-pa love duet that
they do in this bird language. It’s showtunes.

"Now a lot of people sneer at this, and they go, ‘Oh no. After
the Queen of the Night sings her high F above high C I leave.’ I
hope that the appeal that this opera would have for people today is
to keep the child in us alive, that childlike thing that can
believe in magic, that can believe in good and bad. Mozart was able
to keep that alive ­ he died not long after this ­
despite many hardships.

"It’s important that we don’t lose that childlike essence of
humanity. If you can recognize it within yourself, then the spirit
of ‘The Magic Flute’ will speak directly to that, and you can leave
the jaded old cynic at home."

OPERA: UCLA Opera Workshop presents Mozart’s "The Magic Flute"
at the Freud Playhouse May 5- 6 and 12-13 at 8 p.m and May 14 at 2
p.m. TIX: $12, $9 senior citizens, UCLA faculty and staff, $6
students. For more info call (310) 825-2101.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.