Northwestern Opera Theater explores gender, yin and yang with ‘The Magic Flute’


Elisa Huang/The Daily Northwestern

“The Magic Flute” is an opera written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opera debuted Sept. 30, 1791.

Jamie Kim, Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor

Yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. The rise of patriarchy and how it could come to an end. 

These are themes that Northwestern Opera Theater’s production of “The Magic Flute” will explore Thursday through Sunday in Cahn Auditorium. 

In “The Magic Flute,” a prince named Tamino is sent on a quest by the Queen of the Night to free her daughter Pamina, who has been abducted by Sarastro, a high priest. 

Director of Opera Joachim Schamberger said the original production includes misogynistic aspects that Northwestern Opera Theater’s production attempts to address.  

“The real problematic thing in the original story is that the Queen of the Night is painted very one-dimensionally as an evil woman, and all the men around Sarastro and his priests are painted as very wise,” Schamberger said. 

He said there are parts of text they used to explore gender norms rather than eliminating or working around them. 

The story “fits like a glove” with the Chinese concept of yin and yang, as both explore concepts of light and dark and masculinity and femininity, Schamberger said.   

Schamberger said he hopes one day, the concept of distinct masculinity and femininity will be overcome. 

“I think that would be something that I would wish for the future that at some point we wouldn’t even need those parameters,” Schamberger said. 

Another major concept is that even though the characters are physically portrayed as men and women, the story is ultimately about masculine and feminine energies and qualities, according to Schamberger.

He said acknowledging how the character Monostatos, a Black man, has been historically portrayed with racist stereotypes is important to the production. 

“For our modern eyes, (the character) really looks much like a horrible caricature, so we made a big point to acknowledge this,” he said. 

The production addresses this through text changes, making the character non-Black and including program notes acknowledging the challenging history of Monostatos. 

Bienen junior Rena Maduro plays the Queen of the Night. She said being cast in the role was initially daunting due to how famous the character’s “Der Hölle Rache” aria is, but that it has led to a “huge shift” in her confidence as a performer. 

“You can’t sing the Queen of the Night and second-guess yourself,” Maduro said. “You just have to step up there and be like ‘I’m the Queen of the Night.’”

The Queen of the Night is her first mainstage opera role at NU.

Maduro said the role has been very exciting for her, and she looks forward to constantly learning. 

“That is the life of a musician and especially a singer,” she said. “You’re constantly growing in the roles that you do, and it’s just been so fun.” 

Bienen second-year master’s student Michelle Mariposa portrays the Third Lady, one of the Three Ladies serving the Queen of the Night. 

Mariposa said while the Ladies each have their individual quirks, such as the Third Lady’s flirtatiousness, the actors closely coordinate their stances and goals. 

“Since we mainly act as one unit, it’s very fun to interact and just to experience the synergy of performing and reacting alongside and to other people on stage,” Mariposa said.  

She said while the opera is a large production and the rehearsal process has been very rigorous, the experience has been rewarding. 

The first scene of the opera, in which the Three Ladies kill a large snake that has been chasing Tamino, is Mariposa’s favorite. 

“It’s a chance to show that … we are fighters too,” she said. “You question even more whatever stereotypes we have about men and women.”

Schamberger said he is excited about how the different parts of the opera come together seamlessly.

“The parts that are beautiful about it are treated very respectfully, and yet we really made a new piece out of it,” Schamberger said. 

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