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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the June 20, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Summer Opera’s `Magic Flute’

It’s a mysterious and epic journey for players and

audience alike. Mozart’s "Magic Flute" is one of those classic

works of art that hold different meanings for us at different times

in our lives. From its three solemn opening chords to Prince Tamino’s

arrival pursued by a giant serpent, to Act III’s spine-chilling trials

by fire and water accompanied by the strains of the magic flute, this

whimsical yet profound opera has something to say to audiences of

all ages.

"The Magic Flute" opens the Opera Festival of New Jersey’s

18th season, its most ambitious to date, with performances at McCarter

Theater beginning Saturday, June 23. Also featured this season is

Giacomo Puccini’s "Turandot," with a cast of 70, the company’s

largest production ever. Gluck’s "Orfeo ed Euridice" and a

double bill of Luigi Dallapiccola’s "Il Prigioniero" and Bela

Bartok’s "Bluebeard’s Castle" round out the season that runs

through Sunday, July 29.

The Opera Festival is already enjoying record ticket sales. On May

14, the first day of the season’s single ticket sales, it sold 950

tickets, beating all previous years.

This is the third time the Opera Festival has presented Mozart’s


Flute," previously staged in 1986 and 1993. The magical and


adventure of Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina, who are brought


and tested by competing forces of good and evil, is directed by Gina

Lapinski and conducted by Patrick Hansen. The production features

Justin Vickers as Tamino, Jacqueline Venable as Pamina, Joseph Kaiser

as the bird-man Papageno, and Lorraine Ernest as the Queen of the


"This opera is absolutely amazing and masterful in that it can

be enjoyed and interpreted on so many levels," says director Gina

Lapinski in an interview between rehearsals. "There’s comedy,

drama, and pathos — from the high ideals of the brotherhood


for enlightenment, down to Papageno’s craving for a wife who he can

love and have children with. This is truly an ensemble piece and we

have a wonderful, young, and very talented cast who give it a whole

fresh face."

Composed for a popular audience, "The Magic Flute" was first

performed in 1791, the last year of Mozart’s short life. This is his

only opera in which songs and dialogue are performed in the German

vernacular, and in this spirit of accessibility the Opera Festival

will perform the work in English, with English supertitles. General

director Karen Tiller made the choice to perform the work in English,

and it’s one that Lapinski supports.

"It’s a wonderful idea because it makes it much more immediate

for the audience," says Lapinski. "The work’s dialogue can

make for a lot of reading, but in English we can focus right on the

story without interruption." And as conductor Patrick Hansen


for a Princeton audience, "it’s funnier in English."

"It was considered rather crass at the time to write in colloquial

German," says Lapinski, explaining that the work was made for

an outlying folk theater, far removed from the lofty opera houses

of Salzburg and Vienna. The first audiences got to enjoy the star

comic character Papageno portrayed by actor-manager Emanuel


who had commissioned the work and written the libretto.


more or less wrote the role for himself," says Lapinski.

Lapinski’s work on the project started shortly after the new year

when she began discussions with designer John Coyne. Meetings then

took place with Lapinski, Coyne, conductor Hansen, lighting designer

Mitchell Dana, and costume designer Patricia Hibbert as the production

took shape.

"We are taking an approach that’s a little abstract, but full

of color and bold shapes," says Lapinski. "Our inspiration

is the idea of a maze and what it means to take a journey." Each

of the characters has a different path to travel, she explains. Tamino

and Pamina are striving for a spiritual level of union, enlightenment,

and maturity that will allow them to become the new rulers; the


birdman Papageno is simply searching for a wife.

Much has been made, in recent years, of the ways in which Mozart and

Schikaneder employ the symbolism and ritual of the Masonic


to which they both belonged. This includes the mystery and recurrence

of the number three and the imagery of light and darkness.

"As a woman directing this piece, I don’t focus on the Masonic

theme in this production because I don’t think that it means that

much for most of the audiences," says Lapinski. "I’d compare

the situation to Wagner’s `Ring’ cycle: you can follow the story and

the music and get a lot out of it, or you could study sources and

underlying meanings. I see this as a parallel in many ways. The


audience will want to come in and hear Mozart’s music and watch the

story — a fairytale in a way — unfold."

"It’s fabulous to return to the work," says Lapinski, who

directed "Die Zauberflote" for Florida Grand Opera in 1998.

"When I directed it in Florida it was not my production, it was

a production designed by Maurice Sendak and derived from his own


the Wild Things Are.’ It was very rich in that storybook feeling and

it focused quite a bit on the Masonic themes and symbolism."

"As much as I enjoyed discovering the Masonic themes, I found

much of it went over the audience’s head. Approaching it in light

of the growth I’ve had as an individual — realizing the type of

journey I’ve made in my life — I try to focus more on the journey

that the characters make."

"The idea of the maze is that when we come to difficult times

in our lives, perhaps someone comes to guide us for a time, and we

eventually wind our way through the confusing elements of this growth

period and eventually emerge to a place of light and harmony. The

piece is about balance as well, and how we arrive at balanced


Lapinski’s journey began in Pittsburgh where her mother

introduced her to music at an early age, teaching her and her two

sisters to play the piano. At school she became increasingly involved

in music. "I sang quite a bit and I performed a lot. I was also

involved in folk groups and played the guitar. And I always ended

up as one of the people who organized the various groups I was


This organizational factor, she thinks, probably foreshadowed her

current profession.

She describes her father, with amusement, as "the music


of the family who could never carry a tune." Now he is retired

from a 35-year career with IBM, and when she introduced him to opera,

he became a fan. "Dad is now a performing artist — he often

participates as a supernumerary — you know, a spear carrier —

in the opera in Pittsburgh. He finally has his day in the

limelight," she says with a laugh.

Lapinski earned her BA in music education in 1981 and her MFA in voice

in 1983, both at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University. "In college

my original intention was to become a music teacher and the voice

was my instrument," she says. She spent her junior undergraduate

year in Salzburg, Austria — Mozart’s birthplace — where she

studied at the University of Salzburg and the Hochschule fur Musik

und darstellende Kunst Mozarteum. She says it was there she


the bug to perform." She returned home with the desire to become

a professional opera singer.

Lapinski won a full scholarship for graduate study at Duquesne, and

became involved in the Duquesne Opera Workshop. Her job as

assistant to the director encompassed all aspects of staging an opera,

from rehearsing the cast to making props. It gave her a bedrock of

experience to begin working at the Pittsburgh Opera. Since 1993 she

has directed works from both the classic and modern repertories for

companies that include Connecticut Opera, the Florida Grand Opera,

L’Opera de Montreal, and the New Jersey State Opera.

Lapinski now makes her home in West Palm Beach where her

husband Paul Lapinski (who grew up in Bucks County, near Newtown), is

general director of the Palm Beach Opera. The couple previously worked


at Pittsburgh Opera and at the Florida Grand Opera. Paul Lapinski

has also worked on the planning of Miami’s new performing art center.

As a woman in a traditionally male field, Lapinski says

she hasn’t personally experienced difficulty in getting hired. But

being hired by Opera Festival of New Jersey, a company directed by a

woman, is a definite departure from tradition. "There are far


women directors than male directors," she says, "but I think

women are making headway. And we have some prominent women in the

field which is extremely valuable, because I think a woman’s point of

view is different from a man’s."

"I discovered when I was working at opera at an early stage and

still planning to be a singer that I was interested in becoming part

of the big picture," says Lapinski. "And because languages,

music, and theater had been my interests from an early age, opera

really pulled it all together. And it’s never disappointed me."

"I’ve worked with many, many famous singers, especially in my

recent staff jobs at the Metropolitan Opera. There are very few


opera singers. Most of the people I work with are phenomenal artists,

and very hard working. The best are those who work the hardest and

they want to find new things in the role they’re performing, even

if they’ve sung the role many, many times."

Lapinski notes that the libretto for "The Magic Flute"


some "extremely sexist" statements (in German and in


mainly generalizations such as "women talk too much." But

she admires the way such 18th-century "truisms" are outweighed

by the story of a man and a woman in harmony.

"Pamina goes through her own journey and her own trials —

at one point she even considers suicide. But it is she who finally

has the answer to Tamino’s most difficult trial. He does not overcome

it alone, she joins him, and they overcome it together. We see how

together they will rule, and together they will bring harmony

back to Sarastro’s unbalanced, male-dominated community. Mozart was

very forward thinking in giving Pamina this incredibly important


— Nicole Plett

The Magic Flute , Opera Festival of New Jersey,


Theater, University Place, 609-258-2787. Opening night for the annual

repertory season featuring four full productions. $22 to $82.


June 23, 8 p.m. The Magic Flute is also performed: Sunday, July

1, 2 p.m.; Friday, July 6, 8 p.m.; Thursday, July 19, 7:30 p.m.; and

Saturday, July 28, 8 p.m.

Opening night gala is a black tie event under the tent located at

the Princeton Theological Seminary. Co-chaired by Judith and Jeffrey

Gelfand and Pamela Bristol and Gerald Odening, the reception begins

at 5 p.m. with cocktails and dinner followed by the performance of

"The Magic Flute." Call 609-919-1003, ext. 107. $250.

Most performances are preceded one-hour before curtain by a free talk

by a member of the artistic staff in Matthews Auditorium at McCarter.

The Opera Festival offers catered picnics under its tent on the lawn

at the Princeton Theological Seminary, at the corner of Alexander

Street and College Road. A choice of picnics entrees at $16 each must

be ordered at least three days in advance from Richard’s Market and

Catering (609-716-0069); tables can be reserved at a cost of $10


the festival box office.

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