ArtsEmerson in Boston had programmed Mozart’s Magic Flute with the Isango Ensemble touring from South Africa. They promised to give us a performance of the Magic Flute as it has never been seen before, entirely “re-imagined, transformed and transported”. And boy, did they deliver!
I’ll set the scene: The opera opens with the conductor, Mandisi Dyantyis, standing on stage facing his orchestra and with his back facing the audience. A large screen sits at the back of the theater and the projector turns on; the audience can now see the director’s front, giving us a unique performers’ eye view of the conductor that is rarely experienced as an audience member. He fervently kicks off the overture with the marimba orchestra who also sits on stage. That’s right, you heard me… an orchestra of marimbas.
After the overture, the story begins with Tamino entering through the stage’s trap door and singing his first opening lines. His voice is beautiful, light, expressive… everything you could want from a tenor. The three ladies enter for their first piece and we can immediately tell that the singing tonight will be exceptional. Character, after character we were introduced to high-quality sopranos, mezzos, baritones, tenors and basses; every one just as wonderful as the last.
As we continue through the story, there is one essential component that makes this performance so unique and it does not have to do with the beautiful character singing, but has everything to do with the contribution from the orchestra/ensemble. What do I mean by contribution? The ensemble is literally a part of every aspect of the performance; every aria, every transition, every moment. And what’s even better, is that everyone in the orchestra is part of the opera ensemble and vice versa. The same singers you see on stage will transition to a marimba every now and again, still in costume, and accompany the others. But they aren’t just playing the marimbas/percussion as accompaniment, they are also chanting, dancing and singing along with the main characters on stage during their regular arias, duets or trios. And while, you might think this would make for a noisy performance, it actually added harmony, depth, emotion and joy to every piece! The performance is just drenching with traditional African music and it somehow magically enhances Mozart’s masterpiece in a surprising and refreshing way.
Here are some of my favorite highlights from the evening:
- Watching the conductor conduct, play the marimba, sing in the ensemble, and even playing the trumpet (AKA Tamino’s “flute”). This guy is seriously multi-talented.
- The three-child spirits costumes and characters. We saw costumes from the 50’s, 70’s, random teddy bears thrown in there. Of course the child spirits are played by adults, but they completely embraced the child-like attitude (see photo above).
- Queen of the Night – both her singing and her outfit were incredible (as shown below)!
- Papageno – probably one of the most loveable characters of all time. The actor playing him was exceptionally funny.
- Tamino – amazing performance and a beautiful voice
- Basically everything the ensemble did… just amazing!!
If you are in the Boston area, buy your tickets now! Even if you are not an opera fan, the Isango Ensemble makes this piece incredibly accessible and enjoyable for anyone. Need more convincing? Just watch the trailer.
If you do end up attending, please comment below. We’d love to know more about your experience.