From Mayo to Mozart

2011 IS a landmark year for Opera Theatre Company, being its 25th birthday, and to mark the occasion it is touring Mozart’s much-loved The Magic Flute in a sparkling new production which arrives at the Town Hall, for one night only, this coming Tuesday at 8pm.

Enchanting and evocative, this profound but light-hearted tale is guaranteed to delight audiences of all ages. High comedy is set against an atmospheric fantasy backdrop and the sublime score ripples with irresistible charm; from the stratospheric arias of the Queen of the Night, to the glorious melodies of Papageno, which both reflect Mozart’s dramatic genius and enthusiasm for life.

Among the OTC cast is Mayo soprano Joan O’Malley and ahead of The Magic Flute’s Galway performance she took time to talk about the opera and the importance of Mozart in her own career.

O’Malley is a native of Ballyhaunis and music was an important part of her family background; “The music mainly comes from my mother’s family, the Ralphs,” she discloses. “My uncles played in big bands and showbands going back to the 1930s and 1940s. My mother also sang, though not professionally, she would have taken part in a lot of local musicals and so on. So I developed a love of music and singing very early.”

Coincidentally, it was an early encounter with The Magic Flute which first steered O’Malley toward the world of classical music and opera.

“I was about 10 or 11,” she recalls “and I happened to see Ingmar Bergman’s production of The Magic Flute on TV. I I had to watch it on this small TV we used to have upstairs in my mother’s room because the rest of the family were watching something else on the main telly in the living room. I remember the opening scene had this dragon in it and I was immediately captivated. Ever since, it has always remained a very special opera for me.”

Not only The Magic Flute, but Mozart’s works generally have figured prominently in O’Malley’s singing career to date. A regular on the concert platform, Joan recently performed the soprano solos in Mozart’s Requiem under the baton of Mark Keane and Galway’s Tribal Chamber Choir.

She also performed works by Mozart as soprano soloist with the Galway Choral Association on its visit to Salzburg and Vienna. Among her forthcoming engagements is an appearance at Carnegie Hall with the Tribal Chamber Choir, where they will again perform Mozart’s Requiem.

“I’ve been blessed really to do so much Mozart,” she declares. “My voice seems to suit his oratorios so I’ve been very lucky in that way.”

O’Malley takes the role of Second Lady in OTC’s The Magic Flute, and she previously essayed the same part in a production of the opera at the Glasthule Opera Festival.

“I think both productions were/are excellent,” she says as she compares that staging to OTC’s. “The Glasthule one took a very traditional approach whereas OTC’s take on it is darker, more edgy, it’s like a warped fairytale.”

The plot of The Magic Flute sees The Queen of the Night offer her daughter Pamina to the hero Tamino, but he first has to rescue her from her father, the high priest Sarastro who is keeping her captive. The Queen gives a magic flute to Tamino and magic bells to his companion, the bird hunter Papageno, and the duo set off in a quest for love and knowledge.

The Magic Flute was Mozart’s final opera, premiered in Vienna on September 30 1791, less than three months before his death on December 5. The opera has two acts and it is in the form of a Singspiel, which means “sing-play”. This was a popular form that included both singing and spoken dialogue in German. The Singspiel is the direct ancestor of the operettas of such composers as Strauss and Franz van Suppe. It is also considered the predecessor of German romantic opera.

The libretto of The Magic Flute was written by Emaneul Schikaneder, who was an experienced man of the theatre. The opera was a culmination of Mozart’s increasing involvement with Schiknaeder’s troupe; Schikaneder himself played the role of Papageno in the premiere.

Schikaneder and Mozart were fellow members of the same Masonic lodge and among the well-documented aspects of The Magic Flute are the elements of Masonic allegory to be found within it.

One of the more troubling aspects of the opera is the vein of sexism clearly evident in the libretto; the Queen of the Night is portrayed by Sarastro as being entirely evil for instance. O’Malley reveals that OTC’s staging of the opera addresses this issue.

“We’ve set it during the Edwardian era, a time when women were starting to campaign for equal rights,” she notes. “We turn things around and take a more interesting perspective than maybe the libretto offers. I don’t think Schikaneder was as gifted a librettist as Da Ponte who did Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte, and The Marriage of Figaro but whatever sexism may be in the libretto, there’s none in Mozart’s music, quite the opposite.

“In Mozart’s score it’s frequently the female who gets the strongest lines and the woman often gets to sing first as well. OTC’s Magic Flute explores all those aspects and plays around with the various ambiguities involved.”

The production sees Brenda Hurley leading Opera Theatre Company’s chamber ensemble, with orchestral reduction by award winning composer Cameron Sinclair. Dubliner Hurley has recently moved back to Ireland after 25 years working internationally with the likes of New York’s Metropolitan Opera the Salzburg Festival.

Sung in English, translation by Duncan Robertson, The Magic Flute is directed by Annilese Miskimmon. Design is by Nicky Shaw with lighting design by Sinead McKenna.

The cast includes: Allison Bell (Queen of the Night ), Adrian Dwyer (Tamino ), Owen Gilhooly (Papageno ), Emma Morwood (Pamina ), Matthew Trevino (Sarastro ), Mary O’Sullivan (Papagena and First Lady ), Laurence Thackeray (Monostatos ), Joan O’Malley (Second Lady ) Eoin Hynes (YAA ), Nathan Morrison (YAA ), and Mihaela Loredana Chirvase (Third Lady ).

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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