From just its title, “The Magic Flute” acknowledges its reputation as a lighthearted opera immersed in fantasy and the supernatural, offering the audience a mystical world to inhabit for a couple of hours. However, its reinvention by the Columbia University New Opera Workshop revealed a story both earthly and relatable.
NOW performed its production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” on Friday and Saturday night in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. The two-act opera, directed by Luciana Siracusano, CC ’18, and produced by Julian Vleeschhouwer, CC ’19, is the Workshop’s third full-length production and its largest to date, featuring a vocal cast of 18 singers.
“The Magic Flute” depicts the quest of the heroic prince Tamino, played by Carl Lian, GSAS ’20, to rescue Pamina, played by Sarah Fleiss, CC ’21, the daughter of the Queen of Night, from the cult leader Sarastro, played by Mike He, Public Health ’20. Finding the beliefs of Sarastro’s temple to be noble, Tamino instead resolves to join it and win over Pamina in a series of trials.
The ensuing plot is filled with all the lofty morals and daringness to be expected of the heroic quest trope it sets up. In a scene during which Pamina is about to be recaptured after attempting to escape from Sarastro’s community, she resolves to “say the truth, even if it be a crime.”
According to stage director Siracusano, it is moments in “The Magic Flute” such as these—when characters prove their integrity—that allow the opera to cross the barrier from fantasy into reality.
“I think that’s why we come to something like the opera. It reminds us of ourselves, and it takes us out of our daily lives, and tries to look at something that’s a little bigger, a little greater,” Siracusano said in an interview with Spectator.
The one thing to take away from NOW’s rendition of the Mozart classic, according to Siracusano, is the painstaking work put into the music.
From the opera’s overture to its various arias, the orchestra, conducted by Joseph Morag, CC ’18, delivered a stellar performance.
Fleiss, a student in the Columbia-Juilliard exchange program, garnered consistent praise from the audience for her role as Pamina.
A particularly well-received aria of Friday’s performance was sung by Jessica Edgar, CC ’19, as the Queen of the Night. The demanding piece, filled with wide melodic leaps and high notes, received the greatest applause of the Friday evening’s performance. .
However, the most consistent applause on Friday went to Connor Ouly, a student at the Juilliard School, who played Papageno, Tamino’s impulsive, whimsical companion. Ouly’s animated gestures and perfectly-delivered punchlines had the audience laughing throughout the night.
The dedication of the production’s vocal cast is remarkable considering that almost all of the castmembers are not majoring in music or aspiring to professional opera careers, a fact that Vleeschhouwer believes sets NOW apart from other college opera groups. According to Vleeschhouwer, the Workshop is simply a group that shares a common passion for music, singing, and opera.
“The amount of work that we as a group put into this, in spite of the amount of schoolwork we have and the other extracurricular commitments we have, is a testament to our love for the art form and our enthusiasm towards making the performance as great as possible,” Vleeschhouwer said after the performance.
Blending the fantastic with the real, NOW’s rendition of “The Magic Flute” aimed to not only present characters that resonate with the audience, but also performers that Columbia students can relate to.