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Publicity still for CU Opera production of the Magic Flute. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Author: Jill Kimball

Eklund Opera brings ‘The Magic Flute’ to Macky

The worldwide hit, an enduring family favorite, runs March 17-19.

CU Boulder’s Eklund Opera season continues this spring with Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” one of the most beloved and widely performed operas in the world. The family-friendly hit comes to Macky Auditorium with an all-student cast March 17-19.

Since its 1791 premiere, Mozart’s timeless tale has inspired children and adults alike all across the globe. Like a fantasy adventure film come to life, “The Magic Flute” blends together whimsical humor and irresistible melodies to tell the gripping story of a prince who must outwit an evil queen to be united with his true love.

Music Director Nicholas Carthy is quick to point out that, like many kids’ movies, this opera isn’t just intended for kids.

“That’s the great thing about children’s tales, isn’t it?” he says. “They have one meaning for children and another for adults. The Grimm Fairy Tales are a great example.”

Audiences of any age will recognize the stratospherically high Queen of the Night aria, an impressive exercise in vocal acrobatics. They might also have heard the playful duet between the clumsy birdwatcher Papageno and his fated match, Papagena. But despite its few famous passages, Carthy says choosing a best-loved aria from “The Magic Flute” would be unfair to the rest of the opera. Like Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet, it’s a nonstop hit parade of catchy classical melodies.

“The thing bounces from highlight to highlight,” says Carthy. “I couldn’t pick a favorite bit. It has everything, from the lightest of folk melodies to Bach-like seriousness.”

But don’t mistake seriousness for inaccessibility, Carthy warns. What makes “The Magic Flute” such a perfect opera for first-timers is its classic boy-meets-girl plot. Our hero, Tamino, sees a picture of a princess named Pamina and falls instantly in love; then, when he finds out she’s being held hostage by the evil queen, he embarks on an epic quest to save her with his quirky pal Papageno.

“It’s true—just like in ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Shrek,’ there’s a silly sidekick who talks too much,” Carthy says. “These are plots we’ve known since things were written down.”

Hiding beneath the plot we all know so well are odd but clever references the discerning viewer might spot with careful observation. Throughout “The Magic Flute,” Mozart makes countless allusions to ancient Egyptian gods and to the Masonic order, which played an important role in the composer’s life. The Freemasons’ Enlightenment-era ideals of equality and rationalism appealed to him, and he fiercely defended their right to assemble even as the organization faced scrutiny from the Roman Catholic Church.

“Beneath the surface, this piece is a plea to the powers that be not to ban masonry,” Carthy says. “He wanted to demonstrate that Enlightenment men like himself do not just look after our own but also after women, like Pamina, and those who aren’t like us, like Papageno.”

The opera is so rich with detail, so filled with life, that it’s hard to absorb in just one viewing—much like a painting by van Eyck or Vermeer. But whether you’re a first-timer or you’ve seen “The Magic Flute” countless times, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the performance.

“It’s a very human opera, and it speaks to the power of love and the power of duty,” Carthy says, “and that’s what makes it an enduring classic for people of all ages.”

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