For director Garnett Bruce, The Magic Flute is a work that is accessible on so many levels thanks to its universal context.
Bruce said The Magic Flute is, in some ways, the culmination of Mozart’s work for the stage. Mozart wrote the piece in his last year of life and though it wasn’t his last opera, it was the last to premiere.
“I think you have to understand that it’s an opera and you are going to sit still for 90 minutes but as we were saying in rehearsal last night, it’s shorter than The Hobbit, he said.
The music is also more interesting to Bruce. He likens attending the opera to going on a journey.
“And watching that part of live theatre, instead of a 3D movie throwing forks, sticks, knives, arrows and orcs at you, you are actually already in a 3D space and watching something, experiencing something and participating in something as an audience. It sort of calls us back to some of the essential qualities of what theatre can do in a civic society,” said Bruce.
The Magic Flute is a co-production among five opera companies: Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Carolina, San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.
Roger Weitz, Executive Director for Opera Omaha, said it is more expensive for opera companies to build productions from the ground up. He enjoys creating new productions.
“There is something exciting when you’re doing something for the very first time,” said Weitz.
Not only does the collaboration save money because opera companies can pool their resources together. It also allows for a much bigger and grander production than any of the companies could create on their own. He said another advantage to collaborating is as the production travels to more and more cities in the United States and abroad; it carries the name of Opera Omaha and all of its producers.
“What we will see is a multi-million dollar production that we didn’t have to spend multi-millions on ourselves,” Weitz said.
The Magic Flute premiered in San Francisco last June and hits the stage in Omaha this month.
It turns out sharing productions is becoming more and more of a trend.
“I definitely think that shared resources are something that the arts and non-profits in general are going to have to look for and allow. These additional collaborations are the way of the future rather than going it alone. That’s unless you are the Metropolitan Opera,” said Bruce.
Bruce is serving as stage director for the Opera Carolina production. He said the experiences, challenges and solutions he has dealt with in Charlotte will certainly advance what is done in Omaha. Bruce said he is looking forward to working with conductor Nicholas Cleobury.
“I know his work but have never collaborated with him before. He’s going to bring his ideas for The Magic Flute and we are going to add them into the mix. So even if you have seen the show a million times, it will be fresh, because we are all requiring ourselves to take a step back and figure out how we want to tell the story that was this window into the Enlightenment,” Bruce said.
Artist Jun Kaneko is the production designer. Kaneko was asked to be a part of The Magic Flute based on the success of Madame Butterfly. Weitz said Kaneko is an innovative and hugely talented artist in the digital world and also in the medium of opera.
Madame Butterfly, which premiered in 2006, has been to 12 other cities so other people are seeing it. That’s how the head of the San Francisco opera learned of it. They were so blown away by his work that they were interested in a brand new production of a new opera and that started the co-production process,” said Weitz.
Kaneko listened to the score about 200 times before he began designing the production.
“Visually, Jun’s art is beautiful and he is such a curious and serious person in his approach. What you are going to get is this new and vibrant take on a classic opera that is so wedded to the score,” Weitz said.
Bruce said Kaneko’s production design includes stripes, dots and bold color choices. He described it as a lot of fun and whimsical.
“Through all the work Jun has done, he has found a way to visually express the story he’s hearing and he’s using his vocabulary. I think when you hear it with Mozart’s music and watch it shift and emerge,” he said.
Kaneko’s work in the show includes over 1200 video cues. The eye is constantly being moved and led somewhere else. Bruce said Kaneko tries not to overshadow the singers but rather provides balance and lets the background scene evolve.
“Whether it’s going to move into bright colors or has some pastels or dark grays when the story gets more somber, Jun is very in touch with the rhythm of the piece,” said Bruce.
He credited the cast with taking the courageous leap into the unknown and working together as an ensemble. The opera in many ways is a bunch of scenes strung together and it’s the cast that is responsible for telling the overarching story.
“We can’t rely on a lot of fancy scenic work. It has to really be about the characters’ choices and their journey,” Bruce said.
The Magic Flute was a production Opera Omaha had agreed on before Roger Weitz started at Opera Omaha. But he said he was all for it, 100%. One of the first things he got to do when he started at the opera was to sign the co-production agreement.
Weitz called his approach to programming 20/200/2000. He said that’s because he is trying to make opera in Omaha as accessible and appealing to as many people as possible.
“We had La Traviata, which is a beautiful traditional production, great for people who are new to opera and opera lovers. It’s what we call a “warhorse,” something that’s tried and true and one of the most popular and most often performed works. I called that our Top 20 piece. Then we have The Magic Flute and is also a popular opera produced all over the world. But it may not be quite as well known as La Traviata so I called it our Top 200 piece. And we also have Bluebeard’s Castle, which I called our Top 2000 piece. It’s not very well known but it’s going to be exciting from a number of points of view,” Weitz explained.
He said next season will also feature another family-friendly opera.
In his first year and a half, Weitz has been pleasantly surprised by the number of loyal, supportive and generous patrons and opera goers. Several of who have been with Opera Omaha for decades.
“I’ve also been surprised by the willingness of Omaha’s corporate community to support the arts. We are really fortunate in that way. We are lucky that Nebraska has weathered recession better than other states,” he said.
The future of Opera Omaha is positive. He said the opera has attracted a lot of participants in funding and ticket sales. In fact, this season the opera is enjoying a five year high in terms of the number of season subscribers.
“Opera doesn’t have to be this old dusty museum piece. It’s a living art form and there are composers today writing new operas,” said Weitz.
The Magic Flute is at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S 16th Street, Friday, February 22nd at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 24th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $19-$79 at 402.345.0606 or www.ticketomaha.com.