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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
"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
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
"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
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
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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