It was an opera born out of the opulence of 18th-century Europe – a world away from the ruggedly natural, spirit-heavy culture of the West Coast’s first nations.
But when Vancouver Opera reprises its striking 2007 production of The Magic Flute, animal spirits and forest mythology will live large within Mozart’s famed work about a young man on a quest for love and enlightenment who gets tangled between the forces of light and dark.
“It’s one of the best-known operas in the canon, and people are able to experience it in a different way, in a way that is unique to this place,” says director and librettist Robert McQueen, who spent years developing the adaptation with native and non-native artists and consultants.
While Mozart’s music is untouched, the English-language production – which features tenor John Tessier as Tamino, soprano Simone Osborne as Pamina, and baritone Joshua Hopkins as Papageno – weaves in first-nations elements from the snowbird dance to traditional West Coast regalia to words from a dialect of the Musqueam language.
Characters straddle the line between the human and animal realms, with Monostatos slowly transforming into a rat from a European ship, and bird catcher Papageno morphing into a Steller’s jay.
At some points, native and non-native cultures merge, and at others they stand side by side.
“There are places where there are overlaps and commonalities, and then there are places where one thing is round and one is square, and you let that juxtaposition be there,” says Mr. McQueen.
The Magic Flute is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre March 9-17 (vancouveropera.ca).