Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is a perfect point of entry for kids. There’s plenty of fantasy, a happy ending, no one dies and the music is sublime. But for director Tomer Zvulun, it’s all about the magic.
A member of the Metropolitan Opera’s directing staff, Zvulun has staged productions in Atlanta, Seattle, Cleveland, Dallas and for Indiana University. Flute was his first opera, but it wasn’t a live performance. Growing up in Israel, he studied acting and piano.
“I was a really weird kid,” Zvulun says. “My obsession was film, and I was into (Ingmar) Bergman, (Federico) Fellini and (Alfred) Hitchcock. I was 16 when I saw Bergman’s film of The Magic Flute, and suddenly it all made sense.”
Mozart and his librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder created a Singspiel (musical numbers with spoken dialogue) that offered popular entertainment along with barely disguised allusions to both men’s esteemed Masonic ideals. The Queen of the Night enlists Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina from her rival Sarastro. In short order, Tamino and Pamina fall in love and undergo a series of trials before initiation into the higher realms of being.
Although instruments get the magic started, Mozart’s utterly delightful score and characters like the bird catcher Papageno, his mate Papagena and a host of birds and animals are the opera’s true magical forces. When Zvulun first staged Flute for Indiana University, he returned to his experience with the Bergman film.
“Rather than getting bogged down in Masonic philosophy, I went back to the basics of the story, which is what Bergman does,” he says, alternating between Hebrew and English. “What I want to do is bring the theatrical magic into this production.”
The Magical Flute is presented by the Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Go here to read Anne Arenstein's full interview with Zvulun.