When the curtain rises on Opera Colorado’s new production of Wolfgang Mozart’s The Magic Flute on May 2, General Director Greg Carpenter might be in the wings. Or out front. Or backstage. Or sitting rapt with the rest of the crowd, albeit a tad more nervous than those around him. Since 2007, Carpenter has helmed the company both artistically and administratively. Taking both the short and the long view, he has a vision for this production — and for securing and expanding the role of the financially challenged Opera Colorado.
Schikaneder’s classic libretto of young Prince Tamino’s magical, humor-tinged odyssey among the opposing forces of high priest Sarastro and the Queen of the Night is told through some of the most delectable music ever composed. Carpenter sees this production as “a storybook fantasy,” opening with the protagonist falling asleep while reading a fairy tale. That view is reflected in director Daniel Witzke’s statement that the show is "Tamino’s dream.” Projections and video animations are intended to evoke a mysterious atmosphere, augmenting a streamlined, English-language staging.
The Magic Flute is perhaps the most famous sample of Singspiel, a now-defunct German operatic form that mixes sung and spoken dialogue. “Flute comes to a crashing halt during the dialogue," Carpenter notes. "It slows everything down, it stretches the opera out. A faster pace gives it a good energy.” This production's staging adds that energy.
“It is very important to be relatable to the audience,” says Witzke of opera’s new mandate to offer adventurous productions with more convincing performances. “We need to care about what we do on stage.” And the impetus for new productions and, more important, new work is coming from smaller opera companies, he notes: “The collaborative spirit in regional companies is extraordinary right now.”
“The ‘little’ operas are the foundation of the contemporary opera scene,” says tenor Jonathan Boyd, who plays Tamino. He was Greenhorn (Ishmael) in Jake Heggie’s new Moby-Dick at the San Diego Opera in 2012, and has also worked with the Pittsburgh Opera and Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company. These companies serve as incubators of talent, letting young artists work in varying roles in the repertory before they jet off to the peripatetic life of an opera singer.
“We often joke about our frequent-flyer miles,” Boyd adds, having hopped across continents over the course of the past year. “It’s planes, trains and utomobiles.”
New American operas have poured forth since the runaway success of John Adams’s 1987 Nixon in China. One of them is The Scarlet Letter, by composer Lori Laitman and librettist David Mason, now slated for its world premiere at Opera Colorado in May 2016, after funding issues pushed back a planned 2013 opening. A crowdfunding campaign for Opera Colorado's The Scarlet Letter is now under way at Indiegogo; it ends Friday, May 1 and is still short of its $25,000 goal. The production isn't relying on that campaign, tough. “It’s just a small piece of the overall budget of $525,000; we’re more than halfway there,” says Carpenter, who sees the crowdfunding bid as a test. “Is this an effective way to reach a new audience and engage them in fundraising? These are people who live their lives online. We want to connect to a younger generation."
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The campaign is just one way that Opera Colorado is reaching out. Carpenter and his board are working on a five-year strategic planning project that includes new initiatives in smaller venues, in addition to the organization's educational outreach and YoungArtists programs. And the 2016-2017 season is already picked out. “There’s a nice mix of operas on the main stage, including one from the repertoire we’ve never done before,” Carpenter says.
But first, there's The Magic Flute. Says Witzke, “It’s about love, family, and friendship, on all levels.”
Adds Boyd, “We all get along so well. I think that will read on stage, especially the way we are staging it.”
Opera Colorado presents Mozart’s The Magic Flute at 7:30 p.m. May 2, 5 and 8, and 2 p.m. May 10 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 1101 13th Street. For tickets and information, visit operacolorado.org.