Mercer University’s Opera and Townsend School of Music began the semester with a colorful production of W.A. Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Under the direction of Dr. Martha Malone, Chair of Vocal Studies and the Director of Mercer University Opera, the opera featured over 30 vocalists, 12 instrumentalists, with some students doubling as crew and production staff. Included in the cast of performers were guest performers Loretta Seabolt, a Mercer University alumna performing the role of the Queen of the Night and Eric Fischer, a fifth-year at Oberlin Conservatory performing the role of Sarastro. Mercer School of Medicine professor Matt Astin was also apart of the production.
Mercer Opera began rehearsals at the beginning of last semester, and after returning to campus this year, met every day until they opened, with some practices extending over eight hours.
The playful color scheme of the set acted functionally and artistically as the show transported the audience to a fantastical circus world, similar to that of Cirque du Soleil. Additionally, the costumes all contributed to an airy and whimsical setting. Costume designer Shelley Kuhen, in her 19th season as designer for Mercer University Opera, thanked her “amazing costume crew for their countless hours of hard work and the gift of love and laughter...” in the play bill.
“The Magic Flute” was Mozart’s last stage work and “is a recue opera in which the hero is saved by the girl he came to rescue...” according to the program note written by Malone. She continued that it is also “a heroic quest in the struggle of good v.s. evil much like the modern stories of ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and ‘Harry Potter.’”
Dr. Richard Kosowski, the production’s music director, said, “The experience allows the students to practice the fine art of stage craft, to practice learning a role and to practice becoming consistent musicians.” Furthermore, he said that it teaches the students to practice, “taking ideas that are in the score and bringing them to life and learning how to execute those words through physical movement, vocal inflection, and reacting to their peers on stage.”
For the instrumentalists, Dr. Kosowski said, the experience teaches them how to be a part of a small chamber ensemble emphasizing the “independence of lines.” He continued that being in the small ensemble “keeps them thinking far enough ahead,” and that “it is a very different skill to play in an operatic pit as compared to play in a symphonic orchestra.”
As far as reaching the community and the production’s impact, Dr. Kosowski said, “I hope [the audience] takes away the love of a great piece of music. The goal for the community is to introduce, or reintroduce in some cases, the beautiful score. There’s no other motive that, it is just great music and a great story.”
Although the setting was fanciful, this opera was taken seriously by its performers and musicians. It was evident from the outstanding vocal technique, seamless blocking and stage directions, and perfected musicianship that Mercer’s performers are dedicated to their craft.
If you missed this performance, make sure and mark your calendars for the next Townsend of Music School performance on Feb. 7 featuring the Mercer Chamber Wind Ensemble. Coming up next for the Mercer University Opera is a Chamber Opera of various opera scenes opening the first weekend in April.