Three Local Companies Revisit Mozart’s Whimsical ‘Zie Magic Flute’
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Jenni Reinke (First Spirit) and Benjamin Ludwig (Tamino) in the 2017 production of "Zie Magic Flute." Photo by Mark Frohna.
When Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Quasimondo Physical Theatre and Cadance Collective closed their collaborative performance of Mozart’s Zie Magic Flute back in January 2017, the creative team had a feeling this piece wasn’t ready to leave Milwaukee for good.
“We tried to plant the seed for a remount right away,” says Jill Anna Ponasik, producing artistic director for Milwaukee Opera Theatre. “Don’t throw away your costumes. Keep those shoes. It was a big cast and every person said they wanted to come back.”
Zie Magic Flute will make its return to the historic Tripoli Shrine Center Jan. 18 – 27. While only two of the original cast members weren’t able to return for the victory lap, five new artists have been added including two additional spirits and a Sarastro understudy.
Directed by Ponasik and Brian Rott, artistic director for Quasimondo Physical Theatre, this compelling adventure begins with three ladies (Ruth Brown, Erin Sura and Jackie Willis) who rescue Prince Tamino (Benjamin Ludwig) from an evil serpent.
When Tamino asks how he can repay the women for their bravery, they inform him that they are envoys of the Queen of the Night (Sarah Richardson) and need help rescuing the Queen’s kidnapped daughter Pamina (Lydia Rose Eiche). Upon seeing Pamina’s portrait, Tamino instantly falls in love, and agrees to save the princess from the wicked sorcerer Sarastro (Mark Corkins). With a magic flute and company from Papageno (Nathan Wesselowski), the bird catcher who initially takes credit for defeating the serpent, our prince embarks on his mission.
Benjamin Ludwig (Tamino). Photo by Mark Frohna.
Danny Brylow, Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s company manager, translated Emanuel Schikaneder’s original libretto to English, making Zie Magic Flute more accessible for local audiences. Brylow also modernized some of the language, giving the three ladies a more “sorority girl” feel.
“I think that sense of ‘we are putting on a fun show,’ is closer to the spirit that Mozart was creating it in,” Brylow says. “I hope it allows people to go, ‘oh wait, this doesn’t need to be stuffy.’”
Zie Magic Flute will take place in the round under the dome of the Tripoli Shrine. “When people ask if it is going to be in the Shrine again I’m like, ‘how could it not be!?’” Brylow says that the Tripoli Shrine has played a bigger role in the artistic vision of the piece than any other Milwaukee Opera Theatre project.
Mozart and Schikaneder were both freemasons, as were the Shriners who had the Tripoli Shrine built in the 1920s.
Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. Back in 1870, a group of freemasons went to a party in France thrown by an Arab diplomat and became captivated by the Arabic theme. They decided to create an offshoot branch, The Ancient Arabic Order of the Mystic Shrine, known as Shriners. Mozart and Schikaneder’s connection to freemasonry helped shape the story’s themes of common humanity, brotherhood, forgiveness and mercy.
Tripoli Shrine Center Dome. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Opera Theatre.
Along with this parallel, the Tripoli Shrine’s dome creates an immersive experience for the audience, with the action happening just a few feet away on the Shrine’s mosaic tile floor. And don’t forget to look up, as the imaginative Zie Magic Flute performers also make use of the second floor balcony.
“I think one of the biggest things, when you are talking about getting new people to come see opera or classical music, is taking it out of the concert hall,” says Emma Koi, the Cadance Collective founder who plays the production’s namesake instrument. “It’s about taking it out of a seemingly 'stuffy' environment where you think, ‘oh I’m going to the opera and I have to wear a gown!’ This is come as you are, enjoy it, have fun.”
For Zie Magic Flute, Cadance Collective condensed Mozart’s score to only a flute, cello and piano. Cadance’s mission is to bring classical music and dance together in an innovative way, which is why Koi jumped at the chance for her ensemble to contribute to this new staging of a Mozart classic.
Like Koi, Rott couldn’t pass up on this opportunity to collaborate. Rott says he is looking forward to fine-tuning some of the elements of Zie Magic Flute in the remount.
“It felt like there was some magic in the piece that we made together that was very unique,” Rott says. “Between the music, the movement, the puppetry and the libretto, which is also very contemporary, I think it’s accessible to any audience.”
Zie Magic Flute, presented by Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Quasimondo Physical Theatre and Cadance Collective, runs Jan. 18 – 27 at Tripoli Shrine Center, 3000 W. Wisconsin Ave. For tickets visit milwaukeeoperatheatre.org.