Florentine opera - the magical flute

A past performance of The Magic Flute, presented by the Florentine Opera. Bill Florescu resigned days before his production of The Magic Flute was set to open.

Bill Florescu, general director of the Florentine Opera Company, is always eager to discuss Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But that eagerness is even more pronounced as the Florentine prepares to mount a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute this month to close out its 2017–18 season.

The Magic Flute is brilliant in its simplicity,” says Florescu, who directs the production. “The libretto plays a part, certainly, but Mozart’s music is sublime.

“Mozart wrote the opera in the last years of his life, and you can almost see the career horizon that the composer never met,” he adds. “There is a lot of musical sophistication present in this opera.”

The Magic Flute received its world premiere Sept. 30, 1791, in Vienna. Mozart himself, although ill, conducted the performance, with Flute’s librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder playing the pivotal role of Papageno.

By Dec. 5 of that year, Mozart had died at age 35 from an unknown illness.

The current production of The Magic Flute is the fifth one since the Florentine Opera was founded as the Italian Opera Chorus in 1933 and the second since Florescu became the general director in 2005.

This year’s edition, in fact, is a recap of the successful 2009 production, he says.

“The opera’s popularity has a lot to do with its accessibility,” Florescu says. “Its themes are delineated into good guys versus bad guys, and it presages classic musical theater structure while still being sublime.

“It locks people in,” he adds, “and it’s one of my two favorite Mozart operas.”


Happily ever after

The opera’s fantastical story also helps promote its appeal.

Prince Tamino (tenor Noah Stewart) and “bird-catcher” Papageno (baritone Will Liverman) embark on an epic quest to rescue the beautiful Pamina (soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine), daughter of the evil Queen of the Night (Argentinian soprano Laura Pisani). Their journey leads them to the temple of the high priest Sarastro (bass-baritone Jeff Beruan), an archenemy of the Queen. 

But Tamino learns of the high ideals of Sarastro’s community, and he and Pamina undergo severe initiation trials to join, which end in triumph. The evil Queen and her cohorts are vanquished. Tamino and Pamina live happily ever after, as does Papageno, whose efforts are rewarded when he is given the hand of the lovely Papagena (soprano Rachel Blaustein.)

Both Liverman and Pisani are making their Florentine Opera debuts in this production.

Florescu has “edited” the opera to remove some racist and misogynistic elements that “don’t play well in the 21st century,” he says. He also trimmed about an hour out of the production, dropping it to two hours and 15 minutes.

“After three hours you tend to start losing people,” he explains.


Mozart’s versatility

Mozart — who composed his first opera at age 10 — composed The Magic Flute in a style known as singspiel, which combines spoken dialogue with songs in a way popular in the late 18th century. While Mozart didn’t invent the style, he may have been one of its greatest proponents, Florescu says.

“Mozart tweaked and adapted the form, which began simply as composers connecting popular songs with spoken lines,” the director notes. “The Magic Flute stands as one of the greatest extended examples of the singspiel style.”

But that style is not all that Mozart mastered.

“The thing about the greatest opera and symphonic composers is they rarely worked outside their mastered discipline,” Florescu says. “Mozart assimilated so many different styles and aspects that he may be the only one who mastered every style of music in which he wrote.

“When you experience Mozart’s music it feels like you’re opening yourself to a different plane of consciousness,” Florescu says. “Even a simple duet in The Magic Flute offers that experience. 

“If you broke the music down you’d still have the same building blocks, but the composer’s alchemy creates this connection among the parts that’s hard to explain,” he adds. “All of Mozart’s music does this.”

Florentine Opera's production of The Magic Flute takes the stage May 11 – 13 in Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $40 to $165 and can be purchased at the Marcus Center box office, by calling 800-32-OPERA or by visiting florentineopera.org.


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