Vancouver Opera’s “The Magic Flute” is the perfect starter opera

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      For Ashlie Corcoran, when it comes to directing an opera, music is truly everything.

      “It’s the key that unlocks everything,” she says via phone. “It’s also the skeleton that holds everything together.”

      Corcoran, who is artistic director at the Arts Club, has been tapped to direct the Vancouver Opera’s season opener, The Magic Flute. In some ways, she says, directing opera is similar to directing musicals and plays—after all, they all have a script and a story to follow, and they are all brought to life on the stage. But with an opera—even more than with a musical—the music becomes central to the way Corcoran approaches her work.

      She describes it like colouring with her two-year-old son.

      “I was colouring with him this morning. Opera is like this great coloring book that has the most exquisite drawings in it, but there are a lot of black lines that create the structure and the shape that you’re working around,” she explains. “Those black lines are always there. And I think that’s what you do as a stage director in opera: the music creates the structure and those black lines in the coloring book, and the staging and the visual storytelling are the colour.”

      Set to the music of the great Motzart, The Magic Flute is a story within a story: it begins with a garden party where a performance of The Magic Flute is being organized. Mixed in is a kidnapped princess, a vengeful queen (played by operatic powerhouse Audrey Luna), and a whole lot of drama and whimsy.

      “The first act is totally charming: there’s a little tiny theatre on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and we get to see them putting on costumes—and the performance value because of that is a little cheeky, and it’s silly and funny,” says Corcoran. “It doesn’t take itself very seriously because it’s this play within a play idea. And then in the second act, they start enacting some of the rituals that Magic Flute is about. I was telling the cast to think about it like Dungeons & Dragons: you’re playing a part, but is it you or is it your part? It’s very joyful and mysterious and spooky.”

      Of all the performing artforms, opera might feel like the least approachable for the uninitiated. But Corcoran insists this show is for everyone.

      The Magic Flute, period, is a great ‘starter’ opera,” she says excitedly. “Some of the music is complicated and transcendent music for the most aficionado of classical music lovers, but also a lot of it is incredibly accessible, and in many ways, simple.”

      The songs are sung in German, but there are projected English translations throughout the show—and whether you’re paying attention to the words or not, there’s something wonderful about hearing the music of a titan performed by a live orchestra.

      “The tunes are just so beautiful—and hummable,” emphasizes Corcoran. “My two-year-old is humming the music. They are what we now call ‘earworms’ that Mozart was writing.”

      Sounds like a not-to-miss show. Regardless of whether you colour inside or outside the lines.

      Vancouver Opera’s The Magic Flute runs from October 21 to 29 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.