In October, the Tacoma Opera will make history. It will present “The Magic Flute,” Mozart’s classic German opera, with a Native American flair, paying homage to the Salish tribes of the Pacific Northwest. This is the first time such a production has been done in the United States.
Tacoma Opera’s general director, Noel Koran, has been developing the idea of infusing the Salish culture into the production over the last year. The idea took shape during discussions with artist Doug Granum, who has an extensive background in Native American art. Koran and Granum loved the idea of pairing “The Magic Flute,” “a fanciful, fantastical opera,” with universal themes shared by Native Americans — spiritual journeys, celebrations and pageantry.
After many discussions and brainstorming sessions, the men felt the richness and storylines of “The Magic Flute” paralleled many parts of the Salish culture, and they wanted to honor area tribes.
“It’s not just about the artwork; it’s about the people. It elevates the production to a whole new level,” Koran explains. “The philosophy that Mozart is presenting in the opera is so close to the philosophy of the Salish peoples and Native Americans everywhere.”
Granum agrees, “There are so many great opportunities here to honor the elders of the tribe and to honor our own elder, Mozart.”
Koran and Granum have been working locally with the Puyallup Tribe on elements of the production, and hope to include some of the tribesmen in the opera. Koran and his team also are working with costume designer Elizabeth Wislar of Chicago, who is part Cherokee. Native American culture will influence the costumes, set design and artwork, as well as the storyline, forest theme and music.
The multi-faceted opera tells the story of a prince (Tamino) in a foreign land who falls in love with a princess (Pamina) being held captive by Sarastro. Papageno, a comical character with simple wants and needs, adds a light-heartedness to the opera, as he, too, seeks a bride. “The Magic Flute” is not just a serious opera, but it is also a comical and charming production, Koran explains.
“When you bring them together, these two separate styles create a truly full and complete feeling for the music, and you have not just the sublime, serious music, but you also have the comic, fun music, and it makes for an incredible evening and an incredible experience for the audience,” he adds.
Maria Levy, artistic administrator for the Tacoma Opera, is very excited about the production. She encourages families to share this version of the opera with their children, who will enjoy the dragon, forest creatures, and the magical and mystical elements of the story.
“It’s a good first opera for young people,” she says.
The cast features Eric Neuville as Tamino, Ryan Bede as Papageno; Tess Altiveros as Pamina: Alexandra Picard, who is making her debut with the Tacoma Opera as Queen of the Night and Craig Grayson as Sarastro. Koran is the production’s stage director, and Bernard Kwiram is the conductor. A complete cast list is available online at tacomaopera.com.
“We’re very excited about this,” Koran adds. “This is a golden opportunity not just to present Mozart’s incredible opera in a new light, but also to honor the Native American peoples in this area and the Salish culture.”
Kicking off the 2014-15 operatic season, “The Magic Flute” will be presented at the Rialto Theater at 7:30pm Oct. 31 and 2pm Nov. 2. Single tickets range from $15 to $90, and can be purchased by calling the Broadway Center Box Office at 253.591.5894 or online. Tickets are discounted for subscribers. For subscriptions, contact the Tacoma Opera at 253.627.7789.