Dreamlike 'Magic Flute' is like Dr. Seuss with music

April 23, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

The upcoming Baltimore Opera Company production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" will be filled with images of birth and of dreams.

The theme of the opera is the triumph of light over the powers of darkness, says Bijan Ahsef-Jah, who has staged this production. He adds that he takes that basic theme to mean the opera is about "being born" or about "waking from the dream state."

"Mozart was, of course, a Freemason, and the Masons believe that you are not really born until you've seen the light," says the Iranian-born director, who startlingly resembles in looks, voice and manner the wide-eyed, off-the-wall, insouciantly insinuating character Latka Gravas that Andy Kaufman created on TV's "Taxi."

But being born is also like waking from the dream state, the director adds, and that's why he's also staging the opera as if it were a dream. "It's the dream of Prince Tamino [the opera's hero]," Ahsef-Jah says. "And the plot of the opera is about his waking up."

"The Magic Flute" is one of the most magical operas ever written, so enchantingly suffused with fantasy -- it's like a Dr. Seuss tale set to music -- parents in Vienna traditionally take their small children to see it.

In an exotically eastern country, Prince Tamino is saved from a dragon by three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night and who show him a portrait of the Queen's daughter, Pamina. The Queen promises Tamino Pamina's hand in marriage if he will rescue her from an evil sorcerer named Sarastro. Accompanied by a zany bird catcher named Papageno, the prince sets out to rescue her.

But once he arrives at Sarastro's temple, he learns of the Queen's evil nature and of Sarastro's noble order, which is based on Freemasonry and which Tamino resolves to join. Tamino resists all of the temptations posed by the trials of initiation and emerges victorious. (Although Papageno succumbs to almost all the temptations, he too is rewarded with a sweetheart.) The opera ends with the Queen and her ladies sinking into the Earth and Sarastro proclaiming light's triumph over darkness.

"The opera is pure magic," Ahsef-Jah says. "The thing it comes closest to is probably Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' But like Shakespeare's play, it also treats some serious themes. the Queen of the Night is a real bitch -- she's the first

emancipated woman in a negative sense.

"But the treatment of women isn't all negative -- Pamina undergoes the trials with Tamino. And the treatment of Papageno is a wonder. He's not a nobleman -- just a common fellow -- and all he wants to do is have a woman he loves, have children and have enough to eat and drink. And this wonderful opera seems to say that's sufficient for him to achieve salvation."

'The Magic Flute'

What: The Baltimore Opera Company's production of "The Magic Flute."

Where: The Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

L When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday and May 1; 3 p.m. May 3.

Tickets: From $16 to $74.

Call: (410) 685-0692.

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