Downshire to host only performance of top opera

Downshire to host only performance of top opera

8 February 2012 - by JOANNE FLEMING

MOZART’S final opera The Magic Flute, is a love story set against an atmospheric back of fantasy and mischief.

A profound but light-hearted tale, it combines moments of high comedy with darker moments of intrigue and kidnap, and generally delights audiences of all ages.

Celebrating 25 years of touring opera throughout Ireland, Opera Theatre Company, in association with Downe Independent Productions, is bringing The Magic Flute to Downpatrick on Saturday — its only performance in Northern Ireland.

The venue is the Downshire Estate’s Great Hall, following a successful stop in Downpatrick with the opera Don Pasquale last year.

The Magic Flute tells the tale of Tamino, and his comic companion Papageno, who are on a dangerous quest to rescue Pamina, daughter of The Queen of the Night, from Sarastro, the Leader of the Masonic Brotherhood. Trials and initiation rites abound. Sung in English with music direction by Brenda Hurley, this production is directed by Annilese Miskimmon.

She describes The Magic Flute as one the biggest successes the company has enjoyed to date.

“Basically it is one of the most popular operas across Europe and America and a real treat for this time of year,” said Annilese. “There is a kind of magic quality to it.

“We did very well last year with Don Pasquale and also took the Diary of Anne Frank to the Belfast Festival. There has been a huge demand for tickets this time round and we had to change our venue to the Great Hall in Downpatrick to accommodate demand.”

Opera Theatre Company’s chamber ensemble performs the score, with a cast including Owen Gilhooly, Adrian Dwyer, Allison Bell, Emma Morwood, Matthew Trevino, Lawrence Thackeray, Mary O’Sullivan, Joan O’Malley, Mihaela Loredana Chirvase, Nathan Morrison, and Eoin Hynes.

“It is a magical Edwardian setting, with some surprises thrown in,” explained Annilese. “It is not naturalistic, however.

“It is funny, witty and it has been as popular with people who do not go to opera as aficionados.”

The Magic Flute was the last of Mozart’s 22 operas, premiered in Vienna in September 1791, a few months before his early death at the age of 35. A well-documented feature of The Magic Flute is its link with Freemasonry. There are a number of Masonic references to be found in the score, the most significant being the number three — representing the mason when he knocks three times on the door to gain admission.

Mozart wrote the music to a libretto with dialogue by Emanuel Schikaneder, a successful German actor and impresario, and its racist references are largely removed in modern productions.

Annilese argues that the sexist nature of the libretto is of interest and should be examined more closely.

“The Queen of the Night is painted by all of Sarastro’s men as evil and corrupt,” she said. “But who is the real villain of the piece — Sarastro the not so benevolent dictator? Or The Queen of the Night?

“What mother wouldn’t hate a man who has kidnapped her daughter and left her imprisoned in the care of a violent molester? What woman would not attempt to rescue her using all the power at her disposal? In modern terms Sarastro is an arch master of spin — The Magic Flute is a much more complex tale than his version of a straightforward battle of good against evil would imply.

“Much of Mozart’s work has been described as being proto-feminist. His music created libertarian and egalitarian views about women far ahead of his time. In the 18th Century women were largely seen as being inferior to men and barely capable of rational thought. It is very hard for us to fully appreciate how revolutionary it was for audiences to watch fully realised women such as Mozart’s Susanna, Fiordiligi and Dorabella . Mozart lavished much less psychological care on most of his male characters, sometimes leaving them almost 2-D in conception.”

Tickets for The Magic Flute on February 11 are available by contacting 4461 0747. Tickets are £16/13.