My parents, who recently moved to Portland, are huge opera buffs. But I’ll confess, they didn’t pass the gene on to me. Perhaps it is the whole singing-in-languages-I-do-not-speak issue? While I can appreciate the beauty of the music, opera has always felt somewhat impenetrable to me.
So, when I found out that the Portland Opera was putting on a special performance of the Mozart classic “The Magic Flute” this holiday season, 50 minutes long, and sung entirely in English, it seemed like the perfect way to find my way into opera, and perhaps give my parents the chance to pass on their love of the genre to my children.
The show (which repeats next Saturday at 1 pm at the Hampton Opera Center, at the foot of the Tilikum Bridge) is about as child-friendly as opera could possibly get, starting with the craft available before the show (kids can make their own version of the pan flute that the character of Papageno plays on through the show) and continuing through to the invitation to kids to sit “criss-cross-applesauce” on the floor right in front of the stage, to get the best possible view. Before the show, the audience was schooled in the finer points of opera appreciation — “Bravo!” to appreciate a male performer, “Brava” for a female, and “Bravi tutti” (Good job, everyone!) to cap off the show.
The production has criss-crossed Oregon and beyond this year, bringing Mozart’s work to schools, libraries and community centers around the state. Now it’s Portland’s turn — and at just $5 a ticket, it’s one of the least expensive ways to take the whole family to a joyous holiday show this season.
Mozart’s original work clocked in at more than two and a half hours, and the story has been pared back here, but the bones remain the same – Prince Tamino is lost in a forest, and is rescued from a fierce dragon by the three handmaidens of the Queen of the Night. He faints from fear, and when he comes to, he encounters the play’s comic relief, a bird-catcher named Papageno whose dearest wish is to find a mate. Soon enough, the handmaidens return to tell Tamino that their mistress wants him to rescue her daughter, Princess Pamina, from the high priest, Sarastro, who has kidnapped her, with the aid of a magic flute. If Pamina returns safely, she and Tamino may marry.
I won’t spoil the ending, but just say that, in the words of another immortal great, all’s well that ends well (and keep your eye on the Queen of the Night, who is not what she appears). It was a treat to see Thomas Cilluffo as Tamino, as he will also feature in the Portland Opera’s upcoming (and much fancier) production of Rigoletto at the Keller Auditorium. The kids in the audience were partial to Rameen Chaharbaghi’s Papageno, especially his final, witty, warm duet with his eventual bride, played by Ivy Zhou.
After the performance, the actors came back to sit on the stage and field questions from the audience, everything from “What kind of music do you like to listen to?” to “How come you weren’t really playing the flute during the show?” (Those honors belonged to the piano accompanist, Evan C. Paul, who managed to make me forget that there was no orchestra.)
Afterwards, my kids were full of questions for my parents about other operas they’d seen through the years. Torch successfully passed!
Julia Silverman is the editor of PDX Parent magazine. She was given a single ticket to attend this performance by Portland Opera, but the views expressed are her own.
If you go: The Magic Flute, Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers Street, December 9, 1 pm. Tickets available via portlandopera.org or at 503-241-1802.