Fr. Kevin Waters, S.J.

By Fr. Kevin Waters, S.J., professor of music

“The World of Opera,” a regular course in music appreciation, intends to actively engage the Gonzagan as music critic, devotee, historian and even as an imaginative producing director. Mind you, the course has been purposely designed for the student who is a generalist and not a specialist in music. The course requires a great deal of imagination as well as attention to detail.

The following describes one of the tasks the students take up. After careful study of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” the students write a production scenario of their own devising. The particular model production is one semi-staged at the Concertgebow in Amsterdam. There is no scenery, the orchestra is on an elevated stage (not in a pit), the singers and chorus play their parts both behind and in front of the orchestra, and the American dance company, Pilobolus, provides essential scenic moments. For example, the dancers are the raging lion which attacks Tamino in Act I, and later on, the ordeals of fire and water Pamina and Tamino must pass through to complete their Masonic initiation.

The students, further, have viewed a variety of opera productions on DVD by this time and have read a good bit about all that is required for a successful staging of opera, the most complex of all the performing arts. They know about the working arrangement, the music director, the stage director, the chorus master, the scene and costume designers, the house managers, the fund raisers, and the promotion team needed in order to create a splendid and convincing piece of art.

This is the prompt the students are given to get them started on their project: Plan and describe how you would produce Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” You need to include the names of your directors and musicians, the place of the performance and the financing. You may use any singers you wish, current or past; use any medium you wish such as film, animation, television, puppet theater or conventional opera house.

Because the world is their oyster on this one, the range of plans, purposes and outrageous clashes of design is entertaining for the perpetrators of this project as well as for the one who suggested it.

One recent student, a soccer player, cast David Beckham’s young sons as the boy sopranos playing genii in the opera. The rest of his casting was equally creative and hard to resist.

Not all imagining bears merit. Lady Gaga in the role of Queen of the Night may work for characterization but not for vocal substance. Nonetheless, imagination proves to be the foundation for all genuine problem solving, whether for world culture or for world dilemmas.

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