‘The Magic Flute’ review: Balancing an impressive performance with antiquated themes

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The K-State theatre department’s performances of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” bring a classic piece of music history to life for our modern audiences.

This two-act opera follows Prince Tamino as he attempts to return the “gentle, virtuous maiden” Pamina to her mother, the Queen of the Night, from the clutches of the high priest Sarastro.

Upon discovering Sarastro and his followers, Tamino discovers this group may not be as sinister as he originally understood, and actually hold ideals that draw Tamino. He, his companion Papageno, and Pamina then undergo trials to become members of Sarastro’s community.

The audience is presented with a wide array of talent from our impressive cast of K-State students and faculty. The Queen of the Night, Janie Brokenicky, instructor of voice and music theory, delivers us with pointed arias agonizing over the loss of her beloved daughter.

Sarastro, played by Hunter Nelson, sophomore in English and theatre, wins over not only Tamino and company within the story, but the audience as well with his unexpectedly wise, though borderline Bowser-like, presence (he abducts the princess and is holding her captive, I cannot be the only one who drew these connections).

Each performer involved added his or her own personal touch through their characters — from the Spirits, to the Ladies of the Queen, to the Chorus as a whole — to build this show up to the stature it was performed at.

The boisterous, and appropriately “flighty,” Papageno was a performance I particularly enjoyed. Cooper McGuire, junior in applied music, characterized this avian-themed jester type to add the needed lighthearted counter to a plot riddled with abduction, murder and deceit.

In addition to the talented performers on stage, the show is driven by the orchestra below. The orchestra begins the show with an immediately fantastical instrumental to fill McCain Auditorium and draw you into the story that is about to be woven before you. The orchestra intertwines itself musically throughout the show to support the progression of the story through bewilderment, apprehensiveness, love, heartbreak and every emotion in between. The interplay between the flutes in the pit and the flutes on stage is nothing short of, fittingly, magical.

The show, however, does not come without its drawbacks. Purely in its content and by no work of the K-State Theatre, it holds some significant underlying misogynist tones.

This manifests itself in scenes such as a priest of Sarastro disregarding a claim of the Queen of the Night, stating how “a woman does little, chatters much” and what she says is merely “tongue-game.”

The driving force of both Tamino and Papageno is the prize of a beautiful woman to be won, expressed in Papageno’s line lamenting over if only “all girls belonged to me.” This theme recurred a number of times throughout the duration of the show.

These ideas of misogyny are sometimes countered in the opera community as used by Mozart as an allegory for the Freemasons, an organization he was a part of. The misogyny present is suggested to be commentary on the misogyny present in the time period, especially within the gender-based exclusivity of parts of the Freemason organization.

The argument against intentional misogyny also cites the evidence that in the end of the show that Pamina is granted equal status of admission to Sarastro’s organization along with Tamino. This is very much a true statement; there is no disputing the show‘s egalitarianism in that regard.

However, since this was written over 200 years ago and is known for the implication of potential misogynistic values, I do wonder if there is any method of altering elements of the show through acting or directorial choice, or by other means, which could modernize some of the antiquated themes.

A modernization of these classically included, and questionable, themes could present a unique opportunity for an interesting and progressive statement by the theatre department.

To clarify, modernizing these themes would only be required in the case that the Freemasons allegory is not at play here, which is something that I do not know. If the show is, in fact, intentional commentary against historic misogyny, then there would obviously be no need for alteration.

In the way the show plays now, as an audience member, I didn’t absorb the commentary. I was simply left with an uneasiness from my confusion about the occasional quips about women, and the general objectification as prizes that are written into the show.

All in all it was an enjoyable viewing experience. From being enveloped in the beautiful, floating orchestral sound of the pit, to witnessing Papageno’s distraught onomatopoeias in “Hm! Hm! Hm!,” to witnessing the prince battle for his life with the ghastly serpent, I would definitely recommend supporting these talented performers and seeing this show.

“The Magic Flute” will show through Sunday at McCain Auditorium. Visit McCain’s website for more details and to purchase tickets.

Zach St. Clair is a freshman in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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