Petite Opera Boldly Goes Sci-Fi with Mozart MAGIC FLUTE 3.0 – A SPACE OPERA

Petite Opera Boldly Goes where no Chicago Opera Company has gone before… Landing a bunch of space-faring aliens from the planet Vekran on Earth.

Yes, Petite Opera is taking “Magic Flute” into the Science-Fiction/Fantasy realm. It may sound far-fetched, but in relating the story of “Magic Flute” to modern audiences, the Science Fiction theme makes a lot of sense.

A typical portrayal of the
dragon and Tamino in modern

Case in point: In 1791, “The Magic Flute” by Mozart made its debut.  The characters were fantastical, the story written to appeal to the masses.  The story line hinted at the “secret society” of the Masons, with secret trials undertaken by Initiates. Tamino, the tenor, starts the opera by fighting a dragon.  The Queen’s 3 Ladies use magic to kill the dragon. Thunder boomed to signal the beginning of the Queen of the Night’s aria, and the villains, at the end, were magically “melted” in punishment of their evil ways. 

In short, the audience saw magic and magical characters. They saw things that weren’t possible at their point in history.

Fast forward to the 20th century, where Arthur C. Clarke, one of the great British science fiction writers, said:

“Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it.”

In the 1960’s, when “Star Trek” aired, there were no such things as “communicators”.  Fast forward 30 years, and cell phones appeared, with the popular “flip phone” leading the way. All of these are highlights in the Petite Opera translation.

Central to Petite Opera’s concept is the back story of the planet Vulcan, home of the character Spock on Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” .  All Vulcans were one people until they began to destroy each other and their planet.  That was when they divided into two peoples–the Vulcans, who endorsed following logic, reason, and emotional balance as means of enlightenment; and the Romulans, who followed a vengeful, warrior-like, emotionally-driven path. 

Vulcan, at the time of the Awakening

According to “Star Trek” legend, this occurred during the Time of the Awakening in Vulcan history. Innumerable movies have focused on the post-nuclear impacts, or devastating circumstances that changed the course of humanity, or people from other worlds.

Petite Opera’s executive artistic team wanted to capture the same essence of magic and wonder for modern audiences, and focus on the tension and drama of driving our world into oblivion through out own desires.  It’s world premier English translation pushes the envelope, where “Sci-Fi meets Mozart.  The team wanted an obscure setting to demonstrate the differences between aliens and humans on Earth, and the importance of learning from each other.

The setting selected: mythical North Woods USA, somewhere near the US-Canadian border. 

Susan Baushke,
Executive Director
Translation Team Member

“The greater the contrast in lifestyles, the greater the contrast in characters.  Our aliens are from a technological superior universe, while the “local yokels” in North Woods USA are used to a simple life.  The locals see that the aliens are different, but true to the “suspension of disbelief” in all theatrical performances, are amazed at–but very accepting of the alien’s quirkiness,” says Susan Baushke, Executive Director of Petite Opera, and a member of the translation team.

“We wanted to capture that magical essence, and pay tribute to Mozart, and all of the Science Fiction greats.  Sci-Fi has created some of the most beloved characters for current generations, and incredible creations.  They challenge us to be more than we are today,” says Baushke.  “We saw the original plot of Magic Flute as taking on aspects of the team’s Sci-Fi fantasy influences: Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe, Lucas’s Star Wars universe, a little bit of Total Recall, GalaxyQuest, and a whole host of others.”

Petite Opera’s translation brings
a Flute Spaceship to Earth

In this, the year of a new installment of George Lucas’ Star Wars universe will air, the timing is superb to give audiences a taste of Sci-Fi once again.

So why are the aliens on Earth?  In this version, Sarastro leads a large variety of alien races on a mission to recruit more members to their cause:  providing objective, logical thinking that replaces vengeance and desires to destroy.  The alien community fled their planet, Vekran, when it was destroyed through inter-racial war.

The production has its share of drama, and of course, lots of comedy.

“Papageno is the  central character of the piece, in my opinion. He is fully present and n the now and appreciates and enjoys the simple pleasures of life.  He embodies the “everyday Joe”, so the audience easily connects with him.  In our translation, we aimed to modernize his speech while staying trues to his simplicity and earnestness, ” says Cathy Dunn, Stage Director for the production.  

Cathy Dunn,
Stage Director
Translation Team Member

The team also beefed up the influence of some characters, and gave the characters a more three-dimensional presence.  For instance, Sarastro (an objective, logical Vekran) and the Queen of the Night (a vengeful Rimulan) were married, and are now estranged.  Pamina is their daughter (and shows personality features of both alien races), and her inner turmoil is greater as a result.

The Queen’s Three Ladies each have very distinct alien personalities, while also becoming “group/hive/herd/Borg” telepathic transmitters of the Queen’s instructions.

“I find this version really fun to direct,” says Cathy Dunn.  This production marks her fifth interpretation of the production and bringing it to audiences.  “It is just so much fun, and the Sci-Fi nature of it explains so many of the original plot elements… things just fall naturally into place.”

Nathan Oakes,
Translation Team Member

“Tamino is always the ‘heroic tenor’, but we decided to give him a bit more dimension,” says Nathan Oakes, a translation team member, and professed Sci-Fi lover, who is also one of the performers playing the role.  “In this version, Tamino is an entitled, selfish, trust-fund socialite from the big city.  Women were just conquests to him before.  But he turns a major corner when he falls for Pamina.  Here is someone he can truly love.”

Papageno’s love interest is Papagena.  In the original, she has a small part.  Here, she has a more active role as an undercover CIA agent, in love with Papageno, and willing to make a deal with the aliens to get him.

“Oh, she’s fascinated by the aliens… rather like a Skully from X-Files.  But she splits her time between trying to make Papageno notice her, and tracking activity in the alien,” says Baushke.  “Papagena is the only human that knows the aliens are aliens and what’s going on.  It makes it interesting to see the by-play between all of the characters, with her being “in the know” and everyone else just reacting to things as they come.”

Steven Arvanites,
Director of Production
Translation Team Member

The Petite Opera translation
team started by translating the original German into English,then
created its modern-day character palette, setting and vocabularies of
its characters.  “We then made certain that the characters’ mannerisms
and vocabularies matched the vocal line of the music and that all of the
vowels and emphases were correctly placed,” said Steven Arvanites,
Director of Production, and member of the translation team. 

Homer Guillen
Translation Team Member

“Being a writer, but not an opera singer, I found the process of creating the translation fascinating,” says Homer Guillen, a translation team member.  “The nuances of how certain words must be placed to be sing-able within the performer’s vocal range, and still understood and representative of the character, well, it’s much more exacting that one would think.  We really agonized over some word choices. And, we also had a lot of fun pulling in a lot of popular cultural references!”

In parting, we encourage our patrons to count all of the popular sci-fi references throughout the show.  See how many you come up with! And enjoy this jewel by Mozart set with a sci-fi twist.

May the force within you allow you to live long and prosper–make it so!

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 $15 for Students (K-college), and $5 for Preschool Children
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