Author: Kelly Dean Hansen, Camera Classical Music Writer

DAILY CAMERA: CU Opera guest director embraces oddities in ‘Magic Flute’

Grammy Award-winning Herschel Garfein leads performance

For Herschel Garfein, calling Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” a fairy tale is an “easy and errant notion.”

The Grammy Award-winning composer, librettist, and stage director is a guest of the CU Eklund Opera Program. In the absence of program director Leigh Holman — who is on sabbatical — Garfein is directing next week’s production of the beloved but often frustrating masterpiece at Macky Auditorium. A regular guest at CU NOW, the annual summer new opera workshop, he is on the music faculty at New York University.

In approaching “The Magic Flute,” Garfein has decided that it is better to fully embrace the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the oft-derided libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder than try to “correct” them. That includes dispatching the fairy tale idea.

Garfein said in an interview that in an actual fairy tale, the lead character, Prince Tamino, would not make his first entrance in utter terror of a large dragon/snake, only to be rescued by three women. “We know from the outset that he has a long journey ahead of him,” Garfein explained. “It’s of a piece with the way Mozart treated royalty in his earlier operas.”

“The Magic Flute” was written in 1791, the last year of Mozart’s life, and its German-language text and story — with deep connections to Freemasonry — is a stark departure from his three Italian masterpieces (with librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte) from the 1780s. Nonetheless, Garfein sees many similarities in the way Mozart treated the former and latter material.

“The idea is that we don’t see these characters as…”

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