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The Magic Flute to come back to Saigon
Bradley Winterton
Tuesday,  Jun 27, 2017,23:51 (GMT+7)

The Magic Flute to come back to Saigon

Bradley Winterton

A scene in The Magic Flute opera - PHOTO: COURTESY OF HBSO

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is HBSO’s most successful opera production to date. Fully staged and performed with live orchestra, it has proved exceptionally popular and will no doubt do so again when it is revived in the Opera House in HCMC on Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1.

The production is to be more or less what was seen before, though this time with an all-Vietnamese cast except for the role of Sarastro which will be taken, not by Bui Danh Hung as advertised in the Spring-Summer program, but by the Norwegian bass resident in Hong Kong, Derek Anthony.

Apparently the dates in the event proved incompatible with Bui Danh Hung’s other responsibilities and Anthony’s services were secured at short notice. He has sung the role in past productions, and attracted special praise for learning to speak the spoken passages in Vietnamese. It was no easy task, he told me at a rehearsal recently.

The Magic Flute, or Die Zauberflote in the original German, consists of alternating sung and spoken passages. In this production the sung passages will be performed in German, the spoken ones in Vietnamese. The whole production is being staged in cooperation with the Goethe Institute.

There will be little painted scenery as such, but some scenic effects – for instance the dragon at the beginning of the opera and the trials by fire and water close to the end - will be created by a group of mimes. The lighting in past performances was especially effective.

Mozart created The Magic Flute in collaboration with his friend and fellow-Mason Emanuel Schikaneder. Schikaneder ran a down-town theater aimed at providing entertainment for the ordinary citizens of Vienna. These people spoke German, so that is the opera’s language, rather than the Italian of the operas performed at court (Italian was also the international musical language at the time).

Mozart and Schikaneder set about creating something that would appeal to a popular audience, full of excitement (the dragon), comedy (the bird-catcher Papageno), the clash of near-supernatural beings (Sarastro and the Queen of the Night), and love (Tamino and Pamina).

But in addition they wanted to instruct their first audience in the mysteries of Masonry, then a relatively new and secret society. Its origins lay in the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, hence the name of the high priest in the opera, Sorastro. Consequently high spirits and solemnity alternate, as can be heard in the beautiful overture with which the opera begins.

The original director, David Hermann, devised a small addition to the plot. During the overture we see Sorastro and the Queen of the Night falling out when a dying prince gives Sorastro his magic wand, causing the Queen of the Night to storm out in anger. Their opposition throughout the opera is thus given an ostensible cause.

Herman will not be returning to Saigon for this revival, and the production will be directed in his place by Nguyen Phuc Hung. The conductor will be Tran Nhat Minh.

As for the soloists, Tamino will be sung by Pham Trang, Pamina by Cho Hae Ryong on Friday and Pham Duyen Huyen on Saturday, Papageno by Dao Mac, the Queen of the Night by Pham Khanh Ngoc, and Monastatos by Dinh Trung Kien.

This opera is the jewel in the crown of the HBSO’s opera division. It has already given enormous pleasure to many patrons, and their number can only be set to rise this time. As with the ballet division’s Cinderella back in April, nobody with the slightest interest in the arts should miss it.

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