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Opera CdA performs Mozart’s family-friendly ‘Magic Flute’

The story is as enchanting as any fairy tale with a handsome prince, beautiful princess and far-fetched series of events.

At the heart of “The Magic Flute” is the age-old mythic struggle between good and evil, light and darkness.

Fairies, a dragon and an evil queen round out the cast of characters in the family-friendly fantasy, which brings the magic of Mozart to audiences of all ages.

“It’s a great introductory theater piece – not just opera – for kids and families,” said Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, artistic and general director of Opera Coeur d’Alene. “I would love to see families there.”

Opera CdA performs the popular two-act opera tonight and Sunday.

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and written by German librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, “The Magic Flute” is a “singspiel,” with both sung and spoken sections. Arias will be sung in German with English supertitles. The spoken parts will be said aloud in English, making it “nice and easy to follow,” said Nicholson, who wanted to offer a familiar opera that would appeal to buffs as well as an approachable piece that would appeal to a wider audience.

“ ‘The Magic Flute’ is one of the top 20 operas of all time,” he said. Plus, “I love Mozart.”

“The Magic Flute” premiered in Vienna 224 years ago this month, about two months before Mozart’s death on Dec. 5, 1791, at age 35. Both Mozart and Schikaneder were members of the Masonic Lodge, a ritualistic fraternal organization that embraces values such as truth, tolerance and charity. Masonic themes and symbols permeate “The Magic Flute,” but Nicholson’s fully staged production doesn’t emphasize them.

“Those aren’t as interesting to me; I’m a big fantasy buff,” he said. “I’m really playing up the fantasy.”

He set his version in a fantasyland inspired by George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s the sort of place that’s home to “fairies and sprites and witches and warlocks and giants and dwarves and dragons – that kind of thing.”

Tamino, sung by tenor and two-time Grammy winner Vale Rideout, is the handsome – and lost – prince. He’s pursued by a serpent, prays to the gods, faints, and is found by three attendants of the Queen of the Night. They kill the serpent and admire the prince’s handsomeness, but leave him sleeping and oblivious.

The clumsy and comical bird catcher Papageno, performed by baritone Matt Burns, takes credit for slaying the serpent. Before the queen’s attendants magically reappear and warn him against lying, he boasts he strangled the beast with his bare hands. The attendants show the prince a picture of Pamina, the queen’s daughter, and, because it’s an opera, he falls in love with her on the spot – and, of course, sings about it.

The queen’s attendants give Papageno, who longs for a wife, a set of magic bells. They give Tamino the gift for which the opera is named: a magic flute.

Then, the duo set off to rescue Pamina, sung by soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird (the real-life wife of Burns), from the sorcerer Sarastro, sung by bass Jeremy Milner.

Sarastro turns out to be the leader of a noble order dedicated to wisdom (here’s one of those Masonic elements). He insists he’s safeguarding Pamina against her maleficent mother. Soprano Dawn Wolski is the Queen of the Night. She’s plotted against Sarastro with tenor Monostatos, sung by Jadd Davis, to whom she’s promised her daughter. Sarastro, however, promises her to the prince – if he can prove his worthiness.

The prince takes a vow of silence and undergoes a series of other feats in order to win the princess, who’s convinced his silence means he no longer loves her.

Jay Buhny is the singspiel’s speaker. About a dozen dancers, provided by Ballet Coeur d’Alene, run by Nicholson’s wife Brooke, make up the corps de ballet. Spokane Symphony’s Eckart Preu directs an orchestra of regional musicians.

Typical of fairy tales, light and love triumph over darkness.

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