Musical treat for opera lovers at National Theatre

Fans of classical performance are in for a treat this weekend with a production of one of the best-loved operas that tells a simple fairy tale along with enchanting music.

This rendition of “The Magic Flute” an opera by Wolfgang Mozart is produced and directed for Operation Classics by Edita Camm and premiers at the Kenya National Theatre this Sunday, November 1.

Spoken dialogue

In this 1791 opera by the Austrian composer, a beautiful princess, Pamina, is imprisoned by a powerful ruler, the High Priest, Sarastro. A brave prince Tamino takes on the task of rescuing her with a magic flute containing protective properties to help him on this mission.

There is a shocking reversal of roles as Sarastro turns out to be a character of wisdom and goodness while the princess’s mother, The Queen of the Night is unmasked as the epitome of evil.

Mozart wrote the opera based on a libretto (text) by his friend called Emanuel Schikaneder who was the General Manager of the Opera House where “The Magic Flute” was first performed. The opera was written during the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual movement strongly influenced by the rise of modern science.

The performance alternates music numbers with spoken dialogue in the style of modern musicals, unlike other operas where most dialogue is sung. This is a style of opera called Singspiel and makes this performance very accessible to even those who may not be familiar with opera.

Light moments

Edita Camm says that she has to find quite a few new cast members with every new opera she produces because those from previous performances have often won scholarships and left the country for studies abroad.

Doreen Ziegler, an operatic soprano who has performed with the Nairobi Music Society and the Nairobi Orchestra, appears in two roles: Pamina and Queen of the Night. The latter role is known as one of the most challenging vocally in opera because of the range of high and low notes expected from the performer.

Philip Tuju, who is in his fourth opera performance with Operation Classics, plays the role of Papageno a birdwatcher, and the prince’s sidekick who provides some of the lightest moments in the opera. “Philip is a mainstay in my cast because even after winning a scholarship to Berkelee School of Music in the U.S, he has preferred to do things his own way and stay in Kenya.

Three ladies

In “The Magic Flute”, Papageno is eventually united with his soul mate Papagena, a role played by Linda Muthama who is also no stranger to opera having appeared in productions like “Ondieki the fisherman” Kenya’s first opera in 2012.

Linda also doubles up as one of the Three Ladies along with newcomer Lornah Nyiamota who joined the show as a late after an original cast member dropped out in the course of rehearsals. Unlike all the others in the cast, she has not studied music but has what the director of the opera calls ‘a huge fabulous natural voice and musicality.”

The Second Lady is Seraphine Moipei, the younger of the Moipei Quartet who also plays the flute in her second role in an opera after her debut in “Hansel and Gretel”, another production by Operation Classics.

Music student

19-year-old Elvis Kiarie is cast as Sarastro and has impressed the director with a command of the role in both voice and acting. “He is a music student but one does not expect such accomplishments in one so young in both voice and acting. He is perfectly prepared,” says Camm.

Another newcomer to the cast is Cody Thomas, an American pianist who has just moved to Kenya and joins this production singing tenor and playing tuba.

Bernard Kimani designed and built all the sets for the performance while costumes for the performance have been designed by Edita Camm who says that because The Magic Flute is set in a fairy world, expensive, colourful costumes are indispensable to portray the different characters.

Camm, who has produced other operas by Mozart like “Marriage of Figaro”, “Cosi fan tutte” and “Don Giovanni”, developed a passion for opera from an early age when she first watched Verdi’s “Rigoletto” on film in her native Italy. Her knowledge of the common operatic languages, Italian and German gave her a good understanding of this type of musical performance.

Proceeds from “The Magic Flute’ go towards Opera for School Fees - a charity that the director started in 2002 to raise funds through live classical concerts to help bright children go to school.

After the premier show at the Kenya National Theatre, there will be performances at various venues in Nairobi including Pembroke House on November 15, and Karen Country Club on November 19.